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The Emptiness of Digital Intimacy

In their book "Hold on to Your Kids," Doctors Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate' argue that mothers should rightly be concerned about our children and youth connecting with one another through digital devices. "The problem is that the technological attachment activity our children are engaging in acts like a persistent and pervasive weed that eventually takes over the garden, crowding out all the other plants that are rooted there."

They propose that the "whole purpose of attachment is to find release, to be able to rest from the urgent need to find attachment. Growth emanates from this place of rest. When rest can't be found, development is arrested. If attachment activity doesn't lead to fulfillment, it cannot forward maturation: the anxiety is too great, the vulnerability too unbearable. For emotional growth children need to stay vulnerable, and to be able to stay vulnerable, they need to feel secure.

"With fruitless pursuits and empty connections, the cravings only get worse and the preoccupations become more urgent and obsessive. When we eat empty food, the consumption of food increases. I believe this tells the story of social networking. Paradoxically, Facebook is not successful because it works so well, but for exactly the opposite reason: it doesn't work. Attachment never comes to rest; the pursuit of proximity is never satiated. As physician and researcher Vincent Felitti has astutely said, 'It is difficult to get enough of something that almost works.' The attachment hunger of our Web-hooked youth is insatiable and , therefore, addictive."

In short, the root of the problem with so-called social media connections is the digital intimacy doesn't deliver. In one study, girls stressed out by a test were invited to make contact with their mothers- some by voice and some by text. Only the contact made by voice promoted a decrease in the girls' stress hormones and generated comforting attachment hormones as well. The message of affirmation is usually conveyed not just with words but by the warmth in another's voice, the smile we detect in another's eyes, body language. "Digitally mediated connections, for the most part, cannot give us that fulfilling warmth of connection and thus cannot deliver."

While this is the root of the major concern, it is only the tip of the iceberg. So what is to be done? One of the most obvious answers is to create digital-free zones in our homes, lives and in our schedules. Replace screen time with "green time " (outside play and activities). Mealtimes, family times, evenings, and bedtimes are the most important to keep free of digital activities, both to create the space to provide the connection our children really need and to slow down the obsession.

The second answer is to invoke your child's good intentions and help them make the proper decisions regarding their social media and digital use. Talk about it. Ask questions about what they like about their social apps, what benefits they get, and what about them is frustrating to them. Connect with them over this thing that is ever in their universe. Help them see it in a perspective that teaches them to self-regulate.

The third answer is to set the example yourself. Your children are watching your behavior. Do they see you reading a book, learning new hobbies or interests and engaging in activities without your device nearby? You may be reading, grocery shopping or researching on your device, but they only see you engrossed in a screen and feel ignored. Put your device away at certain times. Talk with your children. Make eye-contact. Be on their team.

A great resource is from our partner Gabb wireless on their FREE Family Resources page. Another amazing resource is our partner Safetech Conference. Launching May 6, 2023 and providing ongoing parental advice and support to help your kids thrive in a hyper-tech world. MomSquad members get an exclusive discount to Safetech Conference next May.

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