I am sometimes asked how it is that I see what I see in terms of the impact that technology is having on us and our children. For the longest time, I did not know. Then, I began writing a book on the downside of technology and kids and found my answer. Here it is from me to you.
The reason I see what I do in terms of the pervasive and all encompassing damage technology’s presence is having on our families, most especially on our children, is because I grew up in addiction. It was what I smelled, tasted, touched and walked through each and every day that I lived with my family of origin. It was the sea that I swam in. I did not question it or think it out of the ordinary. Disconnection and dissatisfaction felt normal to me. It felt like home.
As a child, I lived with the constant and unspoken reality that something was always in between me and my parents. Something was always in between me and my siblings. And something was always in between me and myself. The long arm of addiction insinuated itself into every single aspect of our lives from what time dinner was, to how we socialized, to what we believed as children, to how we were with one another, and to how we felt about ourselves. Alcohol was more important than people’s feelings. It was more important than love and connection. It was more important than health and well-being. It was more important than honesty and trust. And it was more important than me. Something non-human told us who we were and how to act. It told us how to be with one another and what to value. Sound familiar?
Like any child, I needed my parents to be available to me. And because they were not, I worked very hard to get them to pay attention, especially my father. I tried to catch his eye. And because what I did never worked, I kept trying harder and harder believing that it was my fault. Believing that if I could just do or say the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way then he would want me. Deep down it felt like there just had to be some dark and awful thing about me that was keeping him from wanting a better connection with me. Because he was my father, I believed him when he told me I was needing and wanting the wrong things. He just had to be right. He was the parent, the one in charge. The one who knew how things worked in the world. The one who was supposed to know how to pay attention to their own kid as well as the one who was never supposed to be the source of their sadness and disconnect. Throughout it all, I learned how to do for myself, how to accept harmful and sub par substitutes and how to go without what I needed most because what I really needed was not available.
Back then, when I was sensing and saying that something was off, nobody wanted to hear it. For them to hear would be to admit that there was a problem, and to admit that there was a problem would be to recognize that something must change, and then actually change. Back then, I was the one saying something is wrong, terribly, terribly wrong. And I am saying it again here. Now. Please God that we do not have to hit a collective bottom before we choose to recognize what is happening to us. Please God that we have a low tolerance for allowing machines to get in between us and our loved ones. Please God that we do not leave our children believing that an inanimate object is more important than them. Back then I was an irritant, a “trouble-maker.” Today, I say, “yes,” it is irritating and inconvenient to hear that the thing that you have made your god is squeezing the life out of you and your family. As bothersome and upsetting as this may be to hear and to recognize, it is still true nonetheless.
Looking back, I see that worse than any emotional neglect I experienced, were the daily choices I had to make; go with the program and have a father who tolerated me being around, or break from what I was being sold and be true to myself, and therefore left without. This left a deep and dangerous imprint on me, so soul-crushing that I still wonder how it was that I did not wind up going over some edge from which there was no coming back. I hated myself when I looked through the eyes of addiction. And for the longest of times, I did not trust myself. In the end, though, I have come to make my peace with it all. Even though it is deeply unsettling for me to be at odds with others, to go against the flow, there is now something in me that is willing to disturb dysfunction and disconnection despite my discomfort. And it all started with having my children and wanting something more for them. Could we not all find this within ourselves? Could we not all refuse to engage with what is inhumane, addictive and life-depleting? Could we not do this for our children?
Children are so astute and so very, very intuitive. In the beginning, they are more like animals; sensing and feeling their way into the world. They read what is beneath the surface. They respond to what is beyond words. When they are young, you cannot con them. It is only as they get older and figure out that if they want your love, they must tow the party line or risk falling out of favor with you, that they begin to lose their knowledge of what they need from you. Abandonment is a loss they cannot bear. Because of this, they will learn to be OK with very little if very little is what we offer them. It does not mean that this is what they want or need. It means that they are willing to make a deal. A compromise. And the compromise will be them; their hearts, their spirits, their lives. It is by our hand that we force this compromise on them when we live as if the screens are the most important thing in life. We do not do this with our words, but through our daily choices and where we place our attentions.