Think Tanks

Summary of A&G Think Tank on Children & Technology

October 7, 2021

Summary of Allen & Glassman, Chartered and Hon. Judge Michele Lowrance Think Tank:  Children and Technology 

Allen & Glassman, Chartered and Michele Lowrance of JAMS are so grateful for the informative speakers and lively participants in our recent Think Tank on September 11, 2021. The topic was Children and Technology, and the speakers were Dr. George Thiruvathukal Professor of Computer Science at Loyola University of Chicago, Natasha Varela, LCPC Director of Child-Adolescent-Family Services of The Family Institute at Northwestern University, and Dr. Meredith Quarello PsyD of The Chicago Dialectical Behavior Therapy Institute.

Gemma Allen served as Moderator and with the help of experts explored the history and the effects of technology on children’s brains. It is a more serious problem than even we knew and is one that every family has to face whether it is an intact or divided family. There have been documentaries like The Social Dilemma and Screened Out, which both spoke to the fact that even some programmers and technology executives have their doubts about what they have created in terms of potential online addiction or at least seduction. Knowing that technology serves our lives in so many ways and yet disrupts our intellectual growth in others, it is up to each parent to deal with the issue one family at a time.

We have seen how China handles this, now limiting children up to age 18 to only 3 hours of gaming a week, but we are not China and we value our freedoms and choices. Our family life is more nuanced, the issues of social science and media and addiction are more complex and in a divorcing family the challenges are even harder. In every family there’s a push-pull between a parent who is more passive about technology and the other who is more vigilant about its limitations. The truth is that moderation is probably the answer, but in divorcing families, reaching the definition of moderation is even more difficult. However, we should unite and do the best for our children on this topic, even if we unite on nothing else. 

The input from experts was in all of our “need to know” categories. Dr. Thiruvathukal spent some time educating us on the history of computers, explaining artfully why our devices are so very addictive. They combine so many features of so many needs in our lives including but not limited to alarm clocks, GPS’s, entertainment, news, interpersonal friendships, stimulus, and just plain views of the world. But he explained that very same appeal is what makes those devices so easy to turn into an addiction and the owners of the tech firms and the programmers of the algorithms are all too savvy about marketing to our needs, wants and desires and actually pushing us further than we want to go or should go.  

Ms. Varela spoke to our challenges in the field of Family Law with regard to children and attachment issues and the fact that children are going to “do as we do” and not as we say. Young people grow up watching parents being distracted by their phones and technology, paying more attention to the device than to their own children, which in turn can make their children much more interested in the devices than in their parents. 

In terms of solutions Dr. Quarello pointed out that every family is different, that we can only address the problems one child at a time, and that her work in dialectics has led her to understand and to even apply the theory that online living can be both good and bad and both things can be true at the same time. However, making the social media work for us rather than divide us is part of her work in dealing with teenagers, particularly those who can become distracted, depressed, and disconnected from the real-life day to day lives by their online connections. 

One of our hosts, Michele Lowrance, emphasized not only the dangers of too much online time, but suggested positive approaches and techniques to interacting with children to change their online experiences into joint experiences, and family events. Her questions and observations were illuminating. 

The comments and the questions from the audience and participants included the need for mindfulness and for each of us to do more independent research as to the effect of all of this on our clients, our patients and our families. 

Other Points:

  1. Studies argue our attention span is being reduced by all the online activity and instant gratification. 
  2. Online learning and “activities” are, in fact, passive, except for gaming which might be too aggressive. 
  3. Children are in danger of attending more to their devices than to their families if we don’t get a grip on our own behavior.
  4. Dangerous information is too available online as to self-harm and even suicidal ideation with virtual “how to’s” and “how to cover up and hide” these dangerous activities.
  5. Depression and social anxiety particularly among teens are on the rise and technology seems to be the cause. 

We can’t solve the issues in one Think Tank or even in one day in one family, but the fact is this Think Tank with its esteemed participants gave us all a needed “heads up.”  Todd Glassman, one of our partners, noted that he was going to apply the lesson of “full attendance” in his son’s soccer game with a phone in his pocket, rather part of his persona. According to the experts that will help his son know that he is being personally validated and not just “praised”.

Thanks to everyone who participated and thank you to the readers and all of our regular members in the Think Tank. We believe we are making a difference and hope to be a catalyst for change. It was out of respect and intentionality that we held this Think Tank on 9/11/21 and opened with a prayer for our nations’ past tragedy and its victims, but also with hope for the future of our nation’s children.

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