Who complains about whom when it comes to technology? It's parents who complain about their children spending too much time texting and surfing the web, right? Well, it looks like it is the other way around. It is children who worry about their parents' love affairs with their BlackBerries, computers and iPhones and see them as fracturing their families.
Or so thinks Sherry Tuckle, a psychologist at MIT who studies how people use technology and published her views in a new book, "Alone Together."
Tuckle thought she was going to write a book about how teenagers drive their parents crazy but was very surprised to hear about kids not knowing what to do because their parents were texting in the car and texting at dinner.
She found, "The stories really were about children wanting parents' full attention." The children revealed in interviews that they were tired of being pushed on the swing with one hand while their mom read email on her smartphone with the other.
Many of the stories Tuckle heard disturbed her.
Children are often "desperate" to make eye contact with their parent when they come home from school.
She described a 13 year old girl who emerges from school where her mother is waiting in the car.
The mother never looks up from her phone. She doesn't look up even when the car is moving, had not seen he daughter in four days.
The teenager had such a sense of longing. What could her mother find more important than looking at her?
And yet the interview with the mother revealed a caring, loving mother, not an abusive one. But she was overwhelmed and was not really thinking about the thing her daughter really needed from her.
There may be a biological reason for some of these behaviors.
Tuckle described how multitasking feels good because the brain is rewarded chemically with dopamine, a neurotransmitter, for every new task we take on.
But with every new task, our performance diminishes. If the tasks are emailing and arranging contacts for a Rolodex, it may be OK if performances dip a bit. But Tuckle states: "When we use these technologies of efficiency and bring them into our intimacies, we bring them into an area where we do ourselves damage ....
The mom who's on the phone while pushing the kid on the swing has defeated the whole point of taking him to the playground. The whole point is to give each other full attention, and to create what I call sacred spaces around certain aspects of life."
Tuckle states that dinner is one of the sacred spaces.
No devices at dinner, an important time for family members to be with each other.
She points out that President Obama has a basket for phones sitting outside the Oval Office and suggests having one outside the kitchen.
She also feels the car is a sacred place. It is for driving and conversation.
Watching sports with your kids, between plays and during commercials, those are times a child is willing to talk to a parent.
A mother who is not giving her child full attention because she is doing the dishes is something most of us have grown up with, but a mother immersed in email or texting or online chatting is different.
The latter is an immersive and gripping activity, whereas the former allows changes in volume and pacing, allowing for interruption and shared attention.
Parents, Tuckle advises, need to be aware of how these seemingly innocuous behaviors can have a major impact on their relationships with their children.
Dr. Kirven Weekley is a clinical psychologist with offices in Covington and Norcross. He specializes in the evaluation and treatment of adults for depression, anxiety, relationship problems and medical issues. He can be reached at (770) 441-9244.