Raising Kids in a Culture of Distraction

Nothing intimidates me more about being a parent than the difficult task of managing the technology that will dominate my child’s life.  I spend quite a bit of time using and analyzing technology and media in many forms, but will I want my child to do the same?  And how will I make sure that he or she is in-touch with their culture without being plugged-in 24/7?

Joe Kraus of Google Ventures says our reliance on devices is creating a “culture of distraction.”  He explains that while we used to have gaps in stimulation — momentary pauses in information flow in which we could completely concentrate on a single thought or, alternatively, let our mind wander and be creative — devices have now filled those gaps:

“Gaps used to happen all the time. Now they’re disappearing. You’re eating lunch with a friend and they excuse themselves to the restroom. A gap. Now, you pull our your phone because being unstimulated makes you feel anxious. Waiting time in a line at the bank? Used to be a gap. Now it’s an opportunity to send an email or a text.”

I think these gaps do more than make us anxious, they make us feel uncool.  Sitting alone in public without a phone or iPad to make ourselves look busy, we become self-conscious.  I experienced this earlier this week when I was waiting for a colleague to meet me for lunch.  She was running 20 minutes late, and I’d left my cell phone and laptop at the office.  With nothing to distract me, I was more than just bored, I was paranoid.  It seemed like the people at the other tables were staring at me, thinking, That poor lady not only has no real friends to dine with, but she also has no means to stalk virtual friends.  Let us take pity on her.  We live in a strange world when appearing less distracted and more attentive can be interpreted as a sign of social disconnection.   We feel like outcasts when we’re actually focusing on what’s in front of us.

But let’s forget the theoretical implications and get back to the real-life task of raising your kids in a culture of distraction.  I don’t want to completely ban TV, the internet, or social media from my child’s life.  I think to do so would make those mediums more appealing and also rob my child of having a shared culture with other kids.  I also think that because I am attuned to the pros and cons of media, I’ll have a better understanding of the technology that my child will encounter.

Some experts say limiting the amount of time kids spend with media is enough (Joe Kraus takes a technology holiday for 12  hours a week), while others encourage parents to teach their kids to be critical of all forms of media and the advertisers that fund them.  Is this sufficient?  How else can we help kids have a balanced relationship with technology?