Last night four Swansons sat in row 6 of a little commuter airplane on the way to visit family, all plugged in. Four people who love each other with four separate devices hardly communicating for the two hours or so that we sped through the air. At first glance it can look like an utter failure — you can hear the criticism ringing in your ears — this family must not be connected, or these working parents, pounding out emails and prepping presentations while their children watch videos and play apps, really must have their priorities off, right? Right.
On that flight I read a beautiful blog post from tenacious pediatric researcher Dr Jenny Radesky that questions the new world in which children are being reared. The one where their parents are plugged-in, distracted, perhaps less attentive and less available while raising infants and young toddlers. It’s the same world today, where preteen digital natives may be connecting more by text than by talking. She cites data that found, “if you take away preteens’ mobile devices and make them hang out with their peers in the country for one week, they get better at reading other people’s facial expressions.” Perhaps these children and teens are swapping thumb skills for interpersonal ones. Radesky is the researcher behind the observations out last year evaluating parents’ use of mobile phones at dinner that alarmingly demonstrated children’s near need to act out to get their parents’ attention. Are our parent-child connections forever changed because of the profound brilliance that digital devices have in capturing our attention? Radesky brings up the zone of proximal development (I’d not previously heard of it) and its profound value. She says,
In order to effectively teach children how to regulate their behavior, we need to interact with them in what psychologist Lev Vygotsky termed the child’s “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).” This means knowing their cognitive and emotional sweet spots: what they can do on their own, what they can’t do, and what they can do and learn with an adult’s help. You can’t fit the puzzle pieces in yet? Let me guide your hand a little bit until you figure it out by yourself. You can’t calm down when you’re frustrated yet. Let me help you identify what emotion you’re feeling and then show you some options for calming your body down. And I’ll slowly take my support away until you can do this skill on your own.