I saw a “tween” recently in my therapy practice that I suspected might have some food issues. When I began asking gingerly about her eating habits she whipped out her cell phone to text her mother: “What do I usually eat for breakfast?” After a minute of messaging she turned her attention back to me to report the results of her inquiry.
Now, I’m sure this young girl could have answered my questions without electronically soliciting help from her mom. Yet her reflexive texting habit made stopping to think for herself entirely avoidable – and regrettably so, because stopping to think is often when important insights occur. That’s why I leave a lot of space in therapy sessions for thought and contemplation on the part of the children I see.
Unfortunately, stopping to think is a behavior less and less common among teenagers and pre-teens. We all know the reason: instant Internet communication plays an increasingly dominant role in the lives of ever-younger children.
Virtual technologies are now entrenched in children’s daily routines. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that adolescents spend 6.5 to 8.5 hours a day consuming online media. Online chatting, text messaging, social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, and music and video channels such as iTunes and YouTube significantly reduce youngsters’ exposure to direct, interpersonal experiences.
Pushing the Pause Button
Technology is not inherently bad, of course, but the unprecedented consumption of rapid-fire electronic media makes time for uninterrupted a knockout post, in-person engagement with peers and mentors all the more important to children’s intellectual, social and emotional growth. Faced with mounting pressures to perform in their classrooms, sports activities and social networks, adolescents, especially, need more opportunities to connect with one another on a genuinely personal level.
Among the best places for children to push the pause button on their electronically-driven, speed-of-light lifestyles are traditional, sleep-away summer camps. In simple, natural settings free of cell phones, iPods and Xboxes, children can hear the sound of their own thoughts more clearly – and learn to use those thoughts to create new opportunities and solve youthful problems for themselves.