The big disconnect | Catherine Steiner-Adair

Summary of: The big disconnect : protecting childhood and family relationships in the digital age
By: Catherine Steiner-Adair


In the digital age, as our online interactions grow and multiply, our empathy and genuine human connection seem to be shrinking. The book ‘The Big Disconnect’ by Catherine Steiner-Adair investigates the consequences of our digitally-driven world on childhood development, family relationships, and communication. This summary brings to light the decrease of empathy among young people, the impact of media consumption on the development of babies, the effect of digital gaming on preschoolers’ creativity, and the significance of trust and communication between parents and children in dealing with online problems.

The Dark Side of Digital Media

Our ever-increasing exposure to digital media, including social media and online chat rooms, is having a significant negative impact on the empathy levels of children. A systematic review of over 70 studies conducted by Stanford researchers revealed that empathy levels among college students had reduced by 40% between 1979 and 2009, worsening in the latter years. Technology, including digital media, was highlighted as a significant cause of this decline. Moreover, digital media is making it harder for children to focus on studies, affecting their academic performance. In 2006, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that teenagers who completed their homework on computers spent at least two-thirds of their time doing something else entirely. It’s becoming clear that the digital world has a detrimental impact on a child’s development, diminishing their ability to learn, concentrate, and be empathetic towards others.

The Negative Impact of Smartphone Usage on a Baby’s Development

Smartphones can hinder a baby’s development surprisingly.

Many new parents find it magical just to gaze into their baby’s eyes or hear their voice for the first time. However, if a parent is too occupied with their smartphone, it could lead to disastrous consequences for their child’s development. Babies require a lot of sensory attention from their parents. When parents fully engage with their children, it stimulates parts of their brain necessary for language and abstract thoughts, according to researchers from the University of California. It is how babies develop emotionally and intellectually. However, if new parents spend too much time on their digital devices, it can adversely affect a baby’s development.

Unlike digital media, sensory interaction enables babies to mimic their parents’ actions, learn their meaning, and boost the neurological areas required for reading and speaking skills development. Additionally, Patricia Kuhl, a professor from the University of Washington, discovered that babies get anxious when they see an emotionless look on a person’s face, which can affect their emotional security. The same emotionless expression can result from staring at a screen, leading to an emotionally insecure environment and exposure to attention disorders.

The Negative Effects of Digital Gaming on Preschoolers

Digital gaming may not be as beneficial as traditional playtime for preschoolers. Studies show that children who indulge in online gaming are less creative, have a shorter attention span, and lack the necessary skills to interact with others. Instead of engaging with their peers, they wait for instructions from their online games, which hinders the development of their critical social skills. Studies also show that children who have positive relationships with their teachers and classmates tend to perform better in primary school. The book, Yardsticks, presents evidence that emotional intelligence and a positive environment are key to a child’s overall success. The message is clear: children need playtime to interact, develop social skills and creativity, and achieve overall happiness and success in life.

Protecting Children from Harmful Online Content

The use of technology has increased the risks that children face today from harmful or abusive interactions online. This exposure can negatively impact children’s mental and emotional development. The book “Full of Ourselves” presents studies that have shown that children as young as three can develop negative opinions of others who are overweight or different from them after playing video games or watching TV. Negative portrayal of women and non-white men in media have also been found to worsen the self-esteem of girls and non-white boys. The author gives an example of a ten-year-old boy who suffered from anxiety and depression after receiving insulting emails from a girl who he had once made fun of. The girl was seeking revenge and used the internet to harass him. The author stresses the importance of protecting children from such harm and suggests measures that can be taken to prevent children from being exposed to harmful content online.

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