Expert advises families spend time offline

October 31, 2013|By Sara Cardine

For all technology's advantages — speed, instantaneous communication and connection across great distances — is it possible that it also, in some measure, diminishes the quality of how we relate to one another and to ourselves?

Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist, school consultant and author of the new book, “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age,” asks parents to consider the value of occasionally unplugging.

In an Oct. 22 discussion hosted by the La Cañada Unified School District, Steiner-Adair spoke to La Cañada parents about how smart phones, texting and other online media impact the lives of parents and children.


“We're all living through a revolution, and it's happening in our living rooms,” she said. “I worry what it's doing to our culture, and I worry what it's doing to children and to our families.”

She shared details from her book, which disseminates findings from three years of interviews conducted with more than 1,000 students, parents and educators on children, family relationships and the use of technology in the home.

“The question I wanted to ask is: Are we losing touch with some other ways of connection with each other?” Steiner-Adair said.

She found children spend an average of 11 hours a day in front of screens; parents log even more hours in such activities. She heard of a father texting while reading his daughter a bedtime story and parents taking calls at the dinner table or toting laptops to parks, beaches and family vacations. One youngster confided, “Mommy's cellphone is stupid.”

Steiner-Adair said it's easy to let emails, texts and calls interrupt family time. Neurologically, checking a device stimulates the brain's “to-do” center, which always wants to do one more thing. That “one more thing” mentality starts to control us, she said.

This is a feeling La Cañada parent Suzanne Jensen is familiar with. A mother of three young children, she admits to frequently checking her phone for updates and communications.

“I am one of those people who's gotten quickly addicted to checking,” she said. “A year ago I wasn't even texting. My friends kept saying to me, ‘I can't believe you don't text.'”

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