Internet addiction is producing a generation of ‘distracted parents’

12 Mar

Internet addiction has been reported in the media since at least 2010. There are two very disturbing articles about parents who have become so obsessed with technology that they forget that they have responsibilities for parenting their real, not virtual children. In the first story published by the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Mark Tran reports about two parents who really and truly lost it. In Girl Starved to Death While Parents Raisied Virtual Child in Online Game Tran reports:

South Korean police have arrested a couple for starving their three-month-old daughter to death while they devoted hours to playing a computer game that involved raising a virtual character of a young girl.
The 41-year-old man and 25-year-old woman, who met through a chat website, reportedly left their infant unattended while they went to internet cafes. They only occasionally dropped by to feed her powdered milk.
“I am sorry for what I did and hope that my daughter does not suffer any more in heaven,” the husband is quoted as saying on the asiaone website.
According to the Yonhap news agency, South Korean police said the couple had become obsessed with raising a virtual girl called Anima in the popular role-playing game Prius Online. The game, similar to Second Life, allows players to create another existence for themselves in a virtual world, including getting a job, interacting with other users and earning an extra avatar to nurture once they reach a certain level.

The UK’s Telegraph reports these idiots were convicted in the article, ‘Internet Addict’ South Korean Couple Convicted of Abandoning Daughter for Virtual Child The fact these clowns got only two years and the woman’s sentence was suspended because she is pregnant is a real travesty.

Sometimes the abandonment is not as physically graphic as in the Korean case. Emotional abandonment is just as harmful to the child as physically starving them. Julie Sceflo reports about a brain dead mom in the New York Times article, The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In:

WHILE waiting for an elevator at the Fair Oaks Mall near her home in Virginia recently, Janice Im, who works in early-childhood development, witnessed a troubling incident between a young boy and his mother.
The boy, who Ms. Im estimates was about 2 1/2 years old, made repeated attempts to talk to his mother, but she wouldn’t look up from her BlackBerry. “He’s like: ‘Mama? Mama? Mama?’ ” Ms. Im recalled. “And then he starts tapping her leg. And she goes: ‘Just wait a second. Just wait a second.’ ”
Finally, he was so frustrated, Ms. Im said, that “he goes, ‘Ahhh!’ and tries to bite her leg.”

Much of the concern about cellphones and instant messaging and Twitter has been focused on how children who incessantly use the technology are affected by it. But parents’ use of such technology — and its effect on their offspring — is now becoming an equal source of concern to some child-development researchers.

Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been studying how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. After five years and 300 interviews, she has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread. Her findings will be published in “Alone Together” early next year by Basic Books.

In her studies, Dr. Turkle said, “Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events.”
Your Brain on Computers: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price (June 7, 2010)
An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness (June 7, 2010)
Your Brain on Computers: More Americans Sense a Downside to an Always Plugged-In Existence (June 7, 2010)

Sceflo’s article cites Meaningful Expereinces in the Every Day Life of Young American Children by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley.

Major Findings
• Children from all three groups of families started to speak around the same time and developed good structure and use of language.
• Children in professional families heard more words per hour, associated with larger cumulative vocabularies.
• In professional families, children heard an average of 2,153 words per hour, while children in working class families heard an average of 1,251 words per hour and children in welfare families heard an average of 616 words per hour. Extrapolated out, this means that in a year children in professional families heard an average of 11 million words, while children in working class families heard an average of 6 million words and children in welfare families heard an average of 3 million words. By kindergarten, a child from a welfare family could have heard 32 million words fewer than a classmate from a professional family.
• By age three, the observed cumulative vocabulary for children in the professional families was about 1,100 words. For children from working class families, the observed cumulative vocabulary was about 750 words and for children from welfare families it was just above 500 words.
• Children in professional families heard a higher ratio of encouragements to discouragements than their working class and welfare counterparts.
Policy Implications
Based on their research, the authors reached the following key conclusions:
• “The most important aspect of children’s language experience is its amount.”
• “The most important aspect to evaluate in child care settings for very young children is the amount of talk actually going on, moment by moment, between children and their caregivers.” For more information:,

Affluent children had an advantage in language skills because of the time their parents spent reading, talking, and interacting with them. Sceflo discusses the implications of technology use by the more affluent and asks the question whether the advantage the children of affluent and educated parents is being eroded by an attention deficit caused by the parent’s obsession with technology?

Katia Hetter of CNN reported in the article, Smartphone danger: Distracted parenting:

Still, I know my addiction to my hand-held device is bad. Checking my phone while talking to my kid while cooking dinner is hurting my capacity to stay with a thought for more than 140 characters.
And Stanford University researchers back me up. They found that people who juggle different sources of electronic information do not focus or remember as well as people who work on one task at a time.
All this multitasking could also hurt my kid’s ability to learn. Another Stanford study about to be published suggests it could be damaging tweens’ ability to develop emotional and social skills.
“People who spend a lot of time online don’t develop social and emotional skills they need,” said Clifford Nass, a Stanford communication professor and a researcher on both studies. “We think the reason is that you have to learn how to read emotion and understand people’s emotions.”
My iPhone was a gift when I was eight months pregnant and couldn’t move. “You’ll be able to send pictures of the baby without moving,” said my spouse. I burst into tears — at the work involved in transferring data. But I started sending those pictures to every relative I could find shortly after our child was born. (And I haven’t stopped. I just added video. Isn’t she adorable?)
Now I hate to put the phone down. I’m an addict. I love, love, love, love my phone. Maybe more than I love you.
My phone is also my helpful denial tool that I live in the real world filled with dirty dishes, diapers, laundry and bits of red Georgia clay getting tracked into the house without my consent. More to vacuum, more to wipe down, more to load into the dishwasher….. Tips for technology-addicted parents
You spend so much time making sure your kids eat right, have all of their shots, and have their homework done for school the next day. Their social development and ability to connect with other people is just as important for their survival.
Make a conscious effort to dedicate a few minutes each day to focus on what your children are saying — without any media distracting you or them — and see what happens.
Face-to-face time
Spend some time with your child talking and looking at each other face to face. Talk to your child and don’t do anything else. Insist your kid look at you. If face-to-face time is understood as sacred, children and adults alike will focus and learn instead of looking elsewhere.
Turn off media
Turn off televisions, phones, computers, games or other electronic devices that can distract when you’re speaking with your children. Remember when it was considered rude to leave the television on when speaking to other people? Now consider that it could also be a social and emotional health hazard.
Balance media use
It’s OK for your children to interact online if they also have technology-free face-to-face time with their friends. “Heavy media users who also have rich and active face-to-face communication where they’re not multitasking will develop emotionally,” Nass said.
Have dinner as a family
This is old advice, but bears repeating: All technology should be off the table — literally. If you’re sitting around the table texting while eating, you are not connecting. Teach your child to connect by connecting.


Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants
1. Jenny S. Radesky, MD,
2. Caroline J. Kistin, MD MsC,
3. Barry Zuckerman, MD,
4. Katie Nitzberg, BS,
5. Jamie Gross,
6. Margot Kaplan-Sanoff, EdD,
7. Marilyn Augustyn, MD, and
8. Michael Silverstein, MPH MD
+ Author Affiliations
1. Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center/Boston University Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Mobile devices are a ubiquitous part of American life, yet how families use this technology has not been studied. We aimed to describe naturalistic patterns of mobile device use by caregivers and children to generate hypotheses about its effects on caregiver–child interaction.
METHODS: Using nonparticipant observational methods, we observed 55 caregivers eating with 1 or more young children in fast food restaurants in a single metropolitan area. Observers wrote detailed field notes, continuously describing all aspects of mobile device use and child and caregiver behavior during the meal. Field notes were then subjected to qualitative analysis using grounded theory methods to identify common themes of device use.
RESULTS: Forty caregivers used devices during their meal. The dominant theme salient to mobile device use and caregiver–child interaction was the degree of absorption in devices caregivers exhibited. Absorption was conceptualized as the extent to which primary engagement was with the device, rather than the child, and was determined by frequency, duration, and modality of device use; child response to caregiver use, which ranged from entertaining themselves to escalating bids for attention, and how caregivers managed this behavior; and separate versus shared use of devices. Highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehavior.
CONCLUSIONS: We documented a range of patterns of mobile device use, characterized by varying degrees of absorption. These themes may be used as a foundation for coding schemes in quantitative studies exploring device use and child outcomes.
1. Published online March 10, 2014

(doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3703)
1. » Abstract
2. Full Text (PDF)

Affluent children had an advantage in language skills because of the time their parents spent reading, talking, and interacting with them. Sceflo discusses the implications of technology use by the more affluent and asks the question whether the advantage the children of affluent and educated parents is being eroded by an attention deficit caused by the parent’s obsession with technology?

There is something to be said for Cafe Society where people actually meet face-to-face for conversation or the custom of families eating at least one meal together. Time has a good article on The Magic of the Family Meal,9171,1200760,00.html See, also Family Dinner: The Value of Sharing Meals

Are you forcing your child to bite your leg to get your attention?

Is ‘texting’ destroying literacy skills

UK study: Overexposure to technology makes children miserable

Technological Educational Institute of Crete study: Parenting style linked to internet addiction in children

Social media addiction Where information leads to Hope. © Dr.

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