Anyone who knows me, knows how much I enjoy drinking coffee. In addition to a Pavlovian response to the smell and taste, when it comes to work, I’ve learned that I’m not very productive in the confines of my home. Thus, I often spend my free afternoons writing reports and blogs, emailing clients, or creating a power point for my next workshop. In fact, Universal Play Therapy, from start to finish, was written over a period of three years, in a cafe, over hundreds of cups of coffee.
As a social scientist, I’m an observer. It’s essential to my work. Recently, while sitting along a bank of tables at Starbucks, my rent-free second office, I had full view of the café. What I witnessed saddened me. It’s become a very common sight in today’s culture, unfortunately:
A dad was sitting at a table in front of me with his young son. For almost an hour, not a single word was exchanged between the two. Not a moment of eye contact. Not a smile. Nothing. The child sat, iPad in hand, transfixed. Expressionless. The dad hovered over his smartphone. Tapping, typing, and swiping. Then mom arrived. She sat at the table with the dad and her son. The boy did not look up from the tablet. Mom proceeded to retrieve her phone, and the circle was complete. The socially disconnected, technologically adept family sat in silence amidst a bustling café.
I grew up in a time when technology was not nearly as pervasive as today. As a young child, my involvement with video games essentially amounted to an occasional game of “Pong” on Atari. However, the technological landscape is vastly different today. Parents need to be educated about the potential consequences of excessive screen time on a young child’s immature and developing neurological system. A child’s brain is hardwired for eye contact, language, and social interaction. Denying them those experiences can have a lasting effect on virtually every area of their development.
I can’t recall a single, specific game of “Pong” I played as a child. However, I do remember and cherish the memories from my own childhood. I hope what I witnessed the other day at Starbucks was an exception, rather than a rule. Otherwise, that boy is missing out on a lot. And so are his parents.