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  • Dr. Rebecca A. Thomas

Laying the Ground Work

My husband and I recently gave a brief presentation to the Albia School Board about some of the downsides to technology. Much of the focus was on the negative effects of overexposure of blue screens on our physical and mental health.

I would like to continue the conversation about 'screens' and technology in general, as I think that grappling with this issue bears relationship to larger issues that impact our community. Rather than seeing technology as the devil, it may be a better approach to understand and address root issues that I believe in a nutshell are merely about finding some balance; about using technology appropriately to enrich our lives I think we may get much further down the road more quickly toward creating a healthier environment for us all.

Talk about foresight! Albert Einstein said this: "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots." This coming from the genius who was born in 1879 and died in 1955. Well said, Albert--and thank you for making my point. In fact, recent research confirms this; the rise of technological inventions has been quite rapid and has outstripped our ability to integrate this tool into our own needs as human beings in a healthy way.

I mean, how cool is it that when i needed to confirm the above quote, I just Googled it to make sure I got it right? I came from the old days of spending eons in the library finding information, getting articles in Interlibrary Loan, etc. My dissertation could have been done so much more efficiently. I mean it's incredible! However, there is a downside; there is tons more excellent information now readily available that must be sifted through; can you say Rabbit Hole?

Anyway, I am sure that Einstein was talking more about wisdom than knowledge. That would be someone my Dad would refer to as an "educated idiot." You know those people, too; very smart, but no common sense. Wisdom is a human condition that you may acquire from living and learning life's lessons well. It makes one a bit more humble, empathic, and kinder. So someone with lots of knowledge doesn't necessarily have wisdom.

So in order to raise children who grow up to be empathic and wise and not 'idiots', we will be required to focus more on learning how to raise humans; how to raise our children to be humane. The important concept here is called empathy; the ability to get in someone else's shoes and see the world from their vantage point. Studies are being done showing that this trait is diminishing in our culture. I know that many of you are getting the picture and can begin to picture the impact of a lack of empathy on our community. That is an interesting and scary conversation in and of itself.

We have learned so much about the brain and how it develops in recent years; in my field it is now being called Interpersonal Neurobiology. Do you know that the opportunity for a child to form neural networks that promote human bonding and relationship actually starts even before birth? And following birth, infants are made to nurse; to be face to face with that mama. It's by design; not only is that baby receiving physical nourishment, the baby's brain is also involved in rapid relational development as mama talks and coos and sings lovingly to that little one. The brain becomes very active in getting busy making all these neural networks and pathways; it literally lights up when Mom and baby's eyes are locked in mutual adoration. We know that the baby is affected even in the womb by what is going on with Mom emotionally and physically, both positively and negatively. And we have found that at birth babies can show that they are already acquainted with Dad's voice and can show recognition of music that was played to them in the womb.

That's how relational attachments are made; person to person. We grow in context of human interaction and contact. Therefore we need to provide children with opportunities to connect with others so the child's social circle can gradually increase toward engagement in the community. That suggest that schools are an important place for teaching relational skills, as well. Kids need to learn how to cope with disappointment, how to get along, how to interact with adults, etc. Based on current research, it seems we need to pay more attention to a child's social and development rather than focusing on taking in knowledge-based information. This is likely more crucial now in this age of technology than ever before. We might avoid pitfalls down the road of raising kids who are socially inept, self-focused, unable to cope, unable to self-regulate, and unable to focus and concentrate unless they're being entertained. Actually, children, adolescents and young adults with those issues are frustrating parents and teachers right now, with many of them being seen in counseling rooms and psychiatrists' offices all over the country.

So in a nutshell, this article has been about laying the groundwork to suggest that it is imperative that we understand the need to give as much attention to social emotional growth in children as we do to cognitive (knowledge-based) growth. Combating what has been coined "relational poverty" is the place to start the conversation. You see, it's not just a mental health issue for professionals, it's an issue for all of us.

Thank you for giving this some thought and let's continue to the conversation in some upcoming articles.


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