The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age

Image of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age
Release Date: 
August 13, 2013
Harper Collins
Reviewed by: 

In her insightful and absorbing new book Catherin Steiner-Adair exposes how the Internet and technology are disintegrating family systems.

She writes, “While parents and children are enjoying swift and constant access to everything and everyone on the Internet, they are simultaneously struggling to maintain a meaningful personal connection with each other in their own homes. It is the parental paradox of our time: never before has there been so much opportunity for families to plug in and at the same time disconnect.”

This is a fascinating and timely book that would benefit every parent. Filled with gripping, true life narratives, this book is a wake up call that we all must heed if family structure is to survive the digital age. This well researched, yet easy to read book is told in a critical but hopeful tone holding much relevance to and practical import for preserving family life. Ms. Steiner-Adair outlines how we are losing the face-to-face connections that are the basis for familial relationships. Despite the many challenges facing the family, Ms. Steiner-Adair shows how easily we can get back on track.

Children and teens are engaging in technology at the expense of direct engagement. Our children are learning more from Internet media than from the classroom and parents. Easy and immediate access to the Internet, particularly social media, has eroded the boundaries that once protected them from age-inappropriate information.

Parents are also immersed in the digital realm more deeply than they realize. The net effect is that children are left yearning for more meaningful interactions not only with one another but also with their parents.

A snapshot of the average family on any given day would reveal not a family unit but disparate individuals glued to a smartphone, computer, TV, iPad, or other electronic device. This is not an exaggeration.

According to research (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010), the average young American spends—with the exception of school—every waking minute using a computer, television, iPad, smart phone, or some other electronic device. Those ages eight to 18 spend 11 hours per day plugged into media content.

Ms. Steiner-Adair clearly notes that such high media usage is linked with poor grades, behavioral problems, and less physical activity. What’s worse is that media consumption has grown exponentially over the years and seems to be continuing.

Stated briefly, unless a youth is in school or asleep, he or she is plugged in. What about adults? Research (NewMedia Trend Watch, 2013) indicates adults are faring no better. The average adult spends 11 hours a day in combined media consumption. Adult media usage is ever increasing. While the benefits of having unfettered information at our fingertips are self-evident we are not more meaningfully connected with one another.

As Ms. Steiner-Adair asserts, high media consumption can have deep and lasting results. Children do not always need direct parental contact, but they do need them to provide the love, leadership, and warmth that technology cannot deliver. Parents often feel in the lurch as they lose control of the family unit and genuine connection with their adored children. Ms. Steiner-Adair offers wisdom and guidance to help parents achieve more understanding and self-assurance as they face the technological revolution unfolding in their homes.

She masterfully negotiates the complex terrain of family dynamics in the digital age. She does not fall into simplistic or reductionistic approaches such as blaming technology, parental failure, or uncontrolled children. The technological revolution is here to stay and by all accounts seems to be growing.

Ms. Steiner-Adair offers historical context, research, and some easy ways for parents to preserve families amid our contemporary technological culture.