I recently attended a seminar by Dr Gordon Neufeld on “raising kids in a digital world”.
Most people are already aware of some of the dark sides of our ‘digital age’, such as device addiction, social media and online bullying, the lack of social skills some kids today have due to a lot of our connections and interactions being made via digital devices rather than interpersonal, physiological issues such as eye development, and safety issues. And I’m sure there are many more I haven’t mentioned. But Dr Neufeld covered a lot more ground than just talking digital. And what was enlightening for me in particular was:
- The profound impact effect that the digital age can have on the fundamental development of our kids; and
- How the last 60 years leading up to now, in conjunction with the digital age, has changed us as a society, our family and parenting values, and ultimately had a negative impact on our generation and those to come.
There were a number of concepts that Dr Neufeld covered which provide background and context to how and why the digital impact is so profound. This is not a literary paper so I haven’t delved into the research and quoted sources. But I will briefly cover a few of the concepts he talked about, which are fundamental to understanding the overall impact of the digital age and the path that’s led us here, as well as some of my own thoughts. At the end I will provide some links where you can get more info on anything that interests you in particular.
Development and forming relationships
In order for people to have healthy adult relationships we have to develop in the right way when we are babies and pre-schoolers. Kids have to go through the process that nature intended, and learn about emotions, have their emotional needs met, and ultimately to learn love their parents and give them their hearts. If they don’t do this, and form the right secure connection/attachment, it is hard for them to stay “connected” to their parents as they get older, feel safe and secure in the big wide world, and can result in all sorts of problems, such as anxiety, self-esteem issues, aggressive behaviour etc.
There are stages that children go through when their brains are developing. And at each stage they learn something new which paves the way for being able to eventually learn how to truly love, and to feel safe and secure. And this process takes 5-6 years. We first learn as babies, using all our senses, and then over the next 4-5 years we learn about belonging and loyalty, sameness and identity, warmth and love, approval and significance. And developing in this way builds our capacity for true intimacy, reduces alarm and frustration, protects our hearts, and serves as a foundation for healthy relationships and sexuality. When kids get to around 5 years old, if they’ve gone through this process and learned how to form relationships, they eventually learn to give their heart. This then gives them the tools they need to feel connected and secure, even when they’re apart from us, and lessens the stress when they start school.
We need to develop in this way so we have empathy, can develop the capacity for true intimacy, and so we are equipped with the skills we need to manage ourselves and function in a difficult environment, such as the harshness and disconnected nature of the online world, and the superficial relationships that can come about because of this.
If digital contact and connection comes before the senses, children don’t mature properly, and it interferes with the development process. There are studies that show that adolescents today have 40% less empathy than a generation ago. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell us why.
The next is attachment parenting. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always been sceptical of this way of parenting. I think this is because I did not understand it properly, and got caught up at face-value with the concept of having to be connected to your baby 24/7 and not having a life! However, this is just one part of it that has been popularised, and is actually a false view of what real attachment parenting is. As I’m learning this I am seeing the light!
What I am interested in here is the underlying concept of attachment parenting and the effect it has on our children’s development. The main factor in attachment parenting is the attentiveness with which the baby’s adults respond to them, which gives them a secure attachment. This is the foundation of healthy emotional development. This is the beginning of the bond we build with our children. Some people will argue we all have attachments to our kids, and this is true. However how kids develop in their first few years of life has a big impact on the quality of the attachment with their parents.
And this attachment sets the pathway to being able to create strong connections with our kids.
The fundamental issue for human survival is connection; to feel connected to our parents and other people, to be loved, to have healthy relationships and companionship. This dictates everything we do. There have been studies done proving this. We learn from a very early age to be connected to those who take care of us in order to survive.
Most of what we do in life is working towards this goal of being connected. Hence why when digital devices came about there was such a quick and huge adoption – people wanted to stay connected with each other.
“Everything revolves around closeness and connection”.
The relationship we develop with our parents as babies and toddlers is crucial to being able to develop this connection. The child and brain development process in the first few years is working towards the ultimate goal of children learning to truly love and giving their parents/caregiver their heart. Kids who have not given their parents their hearts and learned to love completely will grow up looking for their “connections” in the wrong places.
Perhaps a more all-encompassing approach to parenting is “connection parenting”, which is what helps parents create a close lifetime connection with our kids.
The issue these days is there are a lot of things that interfere with our ability to form these close bonds and connections; modern day life, stress, digital devices, working parents all have an impact. Our culture has changed so much over the last few decades, and it is actually getting in the way of our relationships with our kids, and they are being pulled away from us much earlier.
This leads me onto the next factor, which is peer orientation.
This is the concept that kids revolve around their peers and friends rather than their family. This might not even seem like an issue to us as we have grown up with this being the norm. However according to Dr. Neufeld this has only been “normal” since the 60s & 70s. Prior to that this wasn’t the case, and children revolved around their parents and extended families. The hippies were the first group to introduce this concept into society, where they broke away from their family units and their friends became more important than their family.
We see this now, with the primary reason for kids going to school being to see their friends. They want to see them all the time; after school, in the weekends, and we get to the point where even when they are at home, they are not “present”.
The problem with this is that attachment should be with those that take care of us. When we turn to our peers, we run into issues such as peer pressure, and wanting to be the “same” as our friends, because we end up seeking belonging and loyalty, sameness and identity, love, approval and significance from our peers, instead of from the only life-time relationship that we have. It should be from our parents that we seek this, and learn from. If we have developed a deep connection with our parents as children, we are much less likely to stray from this family unit and seek acceptance and connection elsewhere. The connections that we have with friends may seem deep and real, but it is no match for the long-developed heart-relationship that we should have with our parents.
If we haven’t learnt how to love properly, then the relationships and connections we seek as adolescents can be damaging, as we do not know any different, don’t know how it should be. If we start looking for approval, acceptance and identity from our peers, instead of being secure in ourselves as a person and looking for truly meaningful, long-term relationships, that’s when the problems start to arise.
Let’s not “push” our kids out into society before they are ready and before they have learnt how to have proper, meaningful relationships and to feel safe and secure. These things will come when they are ready.
There are a tonne of articles and videos out there that back all this up. Here are a few that I found helpful while doing additional research for this article. There are a number of videos on YouTube of Gordon Neufeld so check those out too to hear it first hand!
Raising kids in a digital world
- How to develop good attachment with your child: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oeqnws-2M0
- Infant-parent attachment: definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724160/
- The rise of peer orientation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKRp3dsPelE
- Kids need us more than friends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlMkWJY5T_w