Saul Rosenthal, PhD

Boston Area Health Psychologist

In a recent piece written for the New York Times, Perri Klass, MD lays out ideas for 5 device-free spaces for families. The article does not directly focus on getting our children off of the devices. Rather, parental media use is the focal point.

He starts with Common Sense Media’s 2016 survey indicating that parents spend over 9 hours per day consuming media. About an hour-and-a-half of that time is work-related. The vast majority of time parents spend consuming media is personal. 

What sort of model does that provide to our children? 

Children, whether we believe it or not, do follow our leads. The setting they grow up in becomes the normal and expected way the world works. If it is normal for parents to spend huge amounts of time behind a screen, then that’s what children will also do.

Dr. Klass then goes on to suggest five “sacred spaces” to keep device-free. The notion of “sacred spaces” is from Sherry Turkle’s work focusing on technology’s disruptive effects on interpersonal communication and health. Part of her argument is that humans are designed for deep interpersonal connections. Although much of technology’s drive these days seems designed to connect us to more and more people, those connections are superficial and in fact harmful to the development of true relationships. 

We know that heavy technology use has brain-based consequences. It follows that long-term heavy technology use has long-term consequences, especially for the developing brain. There’s some data supporting that notion, with higher rates of attention problems, anxiety, depression and isolation. 

Klass draws these notions together to argue that families should have specific device-free times in order to facilitate not only relationships with each other, but children’s longer-term capacity to develop the capacity for the deep and complex relationships that technology inhibits.

While I leave it to you to read the article and find out what the spaces are, I do feel I must highlight his first space — the bedroom. As anybody who talks to me about this knows, this is my first, second and third rules of managing technology overuse. The negative impact of technology in the bedroom is probably one of the most incontrovertible conclusions drawn from otherwise equivocal research on psychosocial effects of technology use. So if you are worried about your own overuse, stop using your device an hour or so before you got to bed and plug it into a charger in a different room. And let me address the two most frequent reasons why people need their devices with them in bed: read a real book and get an alarm clock!

January 25th, 2018

Posted In: Parenting, Tech