Digital technology is all around us. For some of us, phones and the Internet are a vital component of a satisfying life. If you were born after 1990, mobile phones and the Internet have been commonplace in your lifetime. If you were born prior to this, you know what the world was like without the Internet.
Do you wish that the Internet was never invented? Or do you love your phone so much you sleep with it under your pillow? Whether you embrace, or reject technology, have you ever reflected on how your relationship with technology impacts on your relationships with the other people in your world?
Does digital technology have an impact on childhood attachment?
In the age of digital technology and the Internet, technology can come between a parent and baby. If the parent has an Internet addiction, if they spend all their time looking at their phone, they are spending too little time paying attention to their baby. A baby needs a secure attachment relationship with their primary care giver. The baby needs to be cuddled, have eye contact, to be kept safe and warm and fed. The baby needs to be the number one priority to their parent. The parent needs to be intimately physically and emotionally engaged with their babies needs. If this is not happening, then the baby may be developing an insecure attachment pattern.
The screen of your iPad, your phone, your laptop or your TV is hypnotic - meaning that they can be addictive. If a parent is compelled to look at the phone screen, rather than their baby – the child will become neglected, un-stimulated, lacking emotional engagement with their parent. The parent is less available to their child, and insecure attachment patterns follow. Furthermore, screens can be addictive for the child – have you ever seen a toddler with a mobile phone? They find them mesmerising! Screens can distract the baby or toddler from feeding, playing, and engaging with their environment.
Parents – please be aware of the possible impact of your screen hypnosis – put your phone down when you are around your baby!
Technology in teenaged years
The rise of social media has given teenagers another world of engagement. Young people conduct their relationships through computer screens, meaning that they are less likely to be outside playing. Cyber bullying gives bullies a safe screen to hide behind, meaning bullying can be carried into the victim’s bedroom.
Computer games are more and more absorbing and addictive. In parts of Japan and Korea, young people can be so immersed in their virtual reality that they do not leave the house. They become hermits, missing school with parents’ only contact being to bring food up to them.
Technology in adulthood
As adults, the way we use technology will clearly reflect our attachment pattern. For adults with ambivalent or preoccupied attachment (people who are uncomfortable with separation, anxious and needy), technology may provide a relief from the anxiety of existence. No longer does this type of person have to be alone; they can be constantly connected, through social media, emails and texts. Constant telephone use may ensue, with the need to be ‘seen’ on social media, the need to be validated by Facebook likes. However, this can clearly affect this type of person’s ability to relate to the people who they see in ‘real life’ every day. The more you look at the phone, the less you look at your friends, family, housemates, pets, colleagues, children or parents… Some parents spend so much time uploading pictures of their children onto Facebook, that they stop listening to what their children have to say, meaning the children are more neglected.
For adults with avoidant or dismissing attachment (very independent people who avoid intimacy and keep other people at arms lengths), technology can be used to keep people away. This can come in the form of addiction to computer games, Internet relationships, Internet porn instead of sex in person, or communicating with friends or family via text or email instead of seeing them face-to-face. Technology begins to be used as a tool to exacerbate attachment patterns, meaning that people with an avoidant attachment pattern may use their digital tools to become even further disengaged from intimate contact with other people.
What can be done to balance the effects of digital technology?
If a child has a secure attachment relationship with their parents, it is likely that their relationship with technology will be fairly secure. This may mean that technology is used as a useful tool, rather than a way to exacerbate an insecure attachment pattern. Computers can be useful; the Internet is a huge forum for knowledge, discussion and learning. We need to model this healthy use of technology to our children.
If you are worried about your or your child’s use of technology…
Therapy can be a helpful place to discuss your relationship with technology, and to learn more about your attachment patterns. Therapy can help a person to develop a secure attachment pattern, meaning that their relationship with technology is likely to become healthier.
Eco-psychology discusses the idea that we need to get back to our primitive roots – to spend more time engaged in the natural world and less time staring at screens. This brings us back to our values as a species, relationships with each other and our eco-system bringing health and fulfilment. The next time you feel the urge to check your phone, think about reconsidering and taking a walk for 5 minutes instead.
Whatever you do, be AWARE of your technology use and the impact it could be having on you, and the people around you. We need to regularly close the laptop, put down our phones, look at each other and talk.