Tech-Orphans: A New Generation of Neglected Kids

There’s a new drug on the market, though it doesn’t have a label. It’s sold to parents in the form of tablet computers, iPhones, social media and video games.

And it’s as addictive as crack.

Its victims are kids who can’t seem to get their parents’ attention.

I call them “tech-orphans,” children deprived of sufficient positive interaction due to a caregiver’s preoccupation with an electronic device.

We usually regard child-neglect as intolerable. And rightly so. It’s the meth-
addicted mother who can’t get up in the morning to make her kids’ breakfast. Or the dad who leaves his young children unsupervised so he can party. Or the mom who won’t seek medical help for a wheezing teenager.

But can neglect ever be far less devastating? Even socially acceptable?

Here are some of the scenes I’ve witnessed:

  • A baby of about six-months sits in an infant carrier set in a shopping cart seat. The baby’s mother stands just out of view, playing on her phone while the grandmother shops for produce. She also ignores the baby.
  • A father pushes a baby stroller across the street, eyes glued to his cell phone. (Meanwhile, the kid needs the sun roof pulled down so he doesn’t burn to a crisp.)
  • A girl of about four stands in line with both parents at a sporting goods store. She tugs at her father’s pants trying to get his attention, but the guy and his wife are busy, either reading some bit of news online or text-messaging. Other check-out lanes open up, but the parents are too zoned-out to notice and the girl’s whining intensifies.
  • A family sits around a restaurant table, each one focused on his or her individual phones. At another table, a mother chats on her phone while her preschooler opens sugar packets and dumps them on the floor.
  • A second-grader says his step-dad is always playing video games and never lets him play.

What’s so bad about that? Nobody’s being beaten to a pulp. No one is starving or dressed in rags.  And certainly no one is going to call a parent out for any of it. Tech-neglect seems too benign.

But I think it’s a trend that should cause intelligent parents to think about the amount of time they spend texting, plugged into social media and electronic games instead of being plugged into their kids.

According to a “working paper” titled, The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain, posted on the Harvard Center on the Developing Child’s website, “Extensive biological and developmental research over the past 30 years has generated substantial evidence that young children who experience severe deprivation or significant neglect—defined broadly as the ongoing disruption or significant absence of caregiver responsiveness—bear the burdens of a range of adverse consequences. (My emphasis.) Indeed, deprivation or neglect can cause more harm to a young child’s development than overt physical abuse, including subsequent cognitive delays, impairments in executive functioning and disruptions of the body’s stress response.

The operative phrase here is “ongoing disruption or significant absence of caregiver responsiveness.”

It’s what happens every time a parent or caregiver tells a child to “wait a minute while I send this text,” Or keeps her nose in her iPhone instead of interacting with her baby.

I heard an interview with a new author who found time to write a book while feeding her baby in the high chair.

Really? It meant that much to write the damned book? I hope it wasn’t about parenting!

The truth is, I interacted with my kids.

Granted, they grew up tech-deprived. In the 1980s we didn’t have a TV set until a friend put one on our front porch.

We had a computer by the early ’90s, but no internet.

If we weren’t taking walks or reading a story, they were helping me bake bread or dust or just playing somewhere in the periphery. As babies I carried them everywhere. I talked to them about the trees and clouds and music and all kinds of things.

They certainly were not neglected.

When parents blow the chance to interact with their children again and again, that means it’s an “ongoing disruption or significant absence of caregiver responsiveness.” And according to the research, it has an impact on the child’s brain.

In addition, an avoidant parent may be the cause of a child’s acting out. Why wouldn’t a kid of two or three do something mischievous when mom gets on the computer to check her Facebook page every thirty minutes, or plays Farmland at every opportunity?

I’m not calling this kind of thing emotional abuse. It isn’t a parent bashing a child’s intelligence, looks or personality. It isn’t threatening, unless of course it is.

But neglect is painful nonetheless.

While other neglected children come to school hungry, or dressed inappropriately for the weather, tech-orphans come to school with insufficient parent-child interaction. Their parents might as well be gazing at the wall.

What does it teach a child?

  • That they aren’t worthy.
  • That their needs (emotional and physical) can be postponed.
  • That they will have to manipulate people to get attention by doing something big, or even bad.
  • That just being themselves isn’t good enough.

I think it would be like having a workaholic parent.

Only these parents are addicted to electronic devices, their drug of choice.

In my opinion, there’s plenty wrong with it. FFG

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