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Why family conversations are needed and how to revive them in the era of Internet communication
Why family conversations are needed and how to revive them in the era of Internet communication

Talking to children and looking at the phone at the same time will be of little use.

Why family conversations are needed and how to revive them in the era of Internet communication
Why family conversations are needed and how to revive them in the era of Internet communication

A message in one messenger, a retweet in another social network, a reaction to a colleague's post in a third - now people practically never let go of their phones. Now we don’t put our devices away, even during a family dinner. Sherri Turkle, an American professor and sociologist with 45 years of experience, believes that technology-free conversations are more important than ever. Especially for children. After all, this is how they learn to communicate and understand others.

Turkle's new book titled "" was published in Russian by Corpus. With his permission, Lifehacker publishes an excerpt from the second chapter, which talks about the importance of family conversation.

At first glance, modern family life looks about the same as it always looked, everything has remained the same in form - lunches, school trips, family meetings. But it is worth taking a closer look, and our family life will seem boring, but we could share so much with our families - videos, photos, games, all this immense world. And we can be “together” with our families in a new way - to some extent, never part with them.

I still remember the first time I spent the night away from my daughter when she was only a year old. I remember sitting alone in a hotel room in Washington and talking to her on the phone (my daughter was in western Massachusetts). I held on tightly, and at our house in Massachusetts, my husband lifted the receiver to his daughter's ear, and I pretended that my daughter understood that I was on the other end of the line. When we both completed the communication session, I began to cry, because it seemed to me that my daughter did not understand anything. Now we could talk to her on Skype. We would use FaceTime technology. Even if we were far from each other, I would have the opportunity to watch my daughter for hours.

But if you look at the situation again, the role of high technology in family life is much more complicated. As in many other aspects of our life, when we interact with someone live, we tend to be somewhere else. At the dinner table and during walks in the park, parents and children glance at phones and tablets. Conversations that once required personal presence are flowing online. Families tell me that they prefer to debate via text messages, emails and Google Chat because it helps them to articulate their messages more clearly. Some call this "correspondence disputes."

In families, escape from the conversation coincides with a mentoring crisis. Family conversations are essential because they do an important job: to begin with, children can learn from them about themselves and how to communicate with other people. To participate in a conversation, you need to imagine a different way of thinking, be able to accentuate and enjoy gesture, humor and irony in a live communication.

As in the case of language, the tendency to master the subtleties of communication is innate, but the development of these abilities depends on living conditions.

Of course, conversations at school and during games with friends play a key role, but the child begins his journey in the family, where he has been for the longest time and in the most emotionally intense relationships. When adults listen during a conversation, they show children how the listening process works. In family conversation, the child learns what pleasure and consolation we experience when we are listened to and understood.

During family conversations, children can see for the first time that other people are different and deserve understanding. It is in this situation that the child learns to put himself in the place of another, and often in the place of his own brother or sister. If your child is angry with a classmate, it may be worth trying to understand the other's point of view.

It is in the context of family conversations that children are given a great chance to learn that what other people are saying (and how they say it) is the key to how they feel - and that matters. Thus, family conversations become a training ground for the development of empathy. Asking an upset child, "How are you feeling?", An adult is able to send a signal that anger and depression are acceptable emotions; they are part of the whole that forms the personality. If the person is upset, there is no need to hide or deny it. What matters is how you deal with these feelings.

Family conversation is a space where you learn to say certain things, and not act under the influence of emotions, no matter how strong they may be. In this regard, family communication can serve as a vaccine against bullying. In addition, bullying can be prevented if the child learns to put himself in the shoes of another and to reflect on the consequences of his actions.

The private space of family conversation helps children understand that we have the opportunity to spend part of our lives in a closed, protected circle. This is always a somewhat imaginary picture, but the very idea of a protected family space can be very useful as we learn that there are boundaries in a relationship that we can count on. Thus, family conversation becomes a territory where ideas can develop in the absence of self-censorship.

In the performative world, under the slogan “I fast, therefore I exist,” family conversation is a place where a person is given the opportunity to be himself.

In the situation of family conversation, we also learn that solving some problems takes time, sometimes a lot, and that this time can be found, since there are people who are willing to spend it. We learn that the cell phone at the dinner table can interfere with this. Once the phone is on the table, you, like other people, have to compete with everything else.

The privileged circle of family conversation is very fragile. Roberta, 20, complains that her mother started posting photos of family meals on Facebook. According to the girl, now the narrow circle is broken. She no longer feels like her family is on their own: "I can't even relax and put on sweatpants when I'm on vacation with my family, because my mother can post these pictures." Roberta talks about this half-jokingly, but she is seriously upset, and not only because she cannot relax, sitting at the table in sweatpants. She needs time to feel "herself" and not worry about the impression she makes.

When you have this protected space, you don't have to watch every word. However, today I often hear from both children and parents about their desire to tell each other “what is needed”. Ideally, the family circle is an area where you don't have to worry if everything you said is correct. Here you can feel the loyalty of loved ones, understand that they trust you, and feel safe. To provide children with all these privileges, adults must sit down at the dinner table, put away their phones, get ready to look at and listen to children. And repeat this repeatedly.

Yes, many times. The main benefit of family conversations is this: children make sure that they are in a place where they can return tomorrow and on all the days that follow. Since digital media encourages us to do self-editing until we finally say “the right thing,” we may be missing one important point: relationships get deeper, not because we always say specific things, but because we take this relationship seriously enough to come to the next conversation. From family conversations, children learn: it is not so much the information that relatives exchange that is important, but the maintenance of relationships.

And if you are on the phone, it’s difficult to maintain that relationship.

Elsewhere: Exploring Distractions

In 2010, a young pediatrician, Jenny Radeski, began to notice that more and more parents and nannies are using smartphones in the presence of young children. “In restaurants, on public transport, on playgrounds,” notes Radeski, “telephones have become an integral part of adults.” According to Personal Correspondence, email to author on July 2, 2014. pediatrician, attention to children in such moments plays a key role: "This is the cornerstone on which relationships are built."

Jenny Radeski Pediatrician

It is at this time that we listen to children, respond to them both verbally and non-verbally, help solve problems caused by new circumstances or harsh reactions, and also suggest how to better understand ourselves and make sense of our experience … This is how children learn to control strong emotions, recognize other people's social cues and have a conversation - that is, they acquire all those skills that are much more difficult to learn later, for example, at the age of ten or fifteen.

If the adults who look after the children stay on their phones, this, according to Jenny Radeski, becomes a serious interference in the first important conversations with the children. How serious? And how much time do adults actually spend talking to their phones? Radeski conducted a study of fifty-five parents and nannies who dined with their children at fast food restaurants.

Results Sixteen of the fifty-five adults who participated in the study did not use their phones, and four showed something to their children on the phone. Radesky J., Kistin C. J., Zuckerman B. et al. Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants // Pediatrics. 2014. Vol. 133. No. 4. P. 843-9. Some fast food restaurants embed touchscreen tablets right into their tables. The idea is for customers to place orders from these screens, and then kids can use them to play. With this innovation, restaurants can become almost silent places. Customers don't need to talk to a waiter to get food, and this study shows that parents and nannies already talk little with their children. are as follows: all adults, without exception, paid more attention to their phones than to children. Some parents talked to their daughters and sons from time to time, but most of them focused entirely on their devices. In turn, children became passive and aloof or began to seek adult attention through meaningless outbursts of bad behavior.

At such moments, we notice a new kind of pause in family life. We see children learn that no matter what they do, they will not be able to win back adults from high technology. And we see how children are deprived not only of verbal contact, but also of adults who would look into their eyes. Because children are endowed with inner wisdom, they try to look into the eyes of adults in fast food restaurants.

The foundations of emotional stability and ease of communication are laid in infancy, when a child looks into the eyes of an adult, interacting with active, interested persons.

Babies, deprived of eye contact and bumping into the "stone face" of an adult, first experience excitement, then alienation, and only then depression Tronick E., Als H., Adamson L. B. et al. The Infant's Response to Entrapment Between Contradictory Messages in Face-to-Face Interaction // Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry. 1978. Vol. 17. No. 1. P. 1-113. See also: Adamson L. B., Frick J. E. The Still Face: A History of a Shared Experimental Paradigm // Infancy. 2003. Vol. 4. No. 4. P. 451–73. … Nowadays neuroscientists reason this way: when parents call their phones in the presence of young children, they can successfully reproduce the paradigm of a stone face - at home or during lunch in a restaurant - and this is fraught with dire consequences Swain J., Konrath S., Dayton CJ et al. Toward a Neuroscience of Interactive Parent-Infant Dyad Empathy // Behavioral

and Brain Sciences. 2013. Vol. 36. No. 4. P. 438-9. … Unsurprisingly, children who are deprived of verbal communication, eye contact and expressive faces become constricted and unfriendly.

Parents are wondering - what if using a mobile phone will lead to Asperger's Syndrome? You don't have to look for the answer to this question to establish the obvious. If we don't look our own children in the eye and engage them in conversation, it’s no surprise that they grow up clumsy and withdrawn - and live communication makes them anxious.

The missing chip hypothesis

Fifteen-year-old Leslie's family often sits staring at the phone screen while they share meals in silence. The girl says that the pauses occur when her mother breaks her own rule, according to which there should be no telephones while eating. As soon as Leslie's mother gets the phone, it entails a "chain reaction". Family dinner conversations are fragile.


And so my mother continually checks her correspondence, constantly looks at her phone, he always lies next to her on the dinner table … And if the cell phone emits even the slightest signal, if something rings, my mother immediately looks at it. She always finds an excuse for herself. When we go to lunch at a restaurant, she pretends to put the phone away, but in fact puts it on her lap. She glances at him furtively, but it's so obvious.

My dad and sister, together, ask her to put her mobile phone aside. If I took out my phone at the table at least once, my mother would immediately punish me, but she herself is sitting with the phone … At dinner, my mother looks at the screen of her mobile phone again, and as a result we are all sitting - dad, sister and me, - and nobody talks or does anything at all. This is a chain reaction. It is enough for at least one person to take out the phone. It is enough for at least one person to stop communicating with others.

Leslie lives in a world of missed opportunities. At home, she cannot learn the things that the conversation teaches: realizing the value of her own feelings, speaking them out, and also understanding and respecting the feelings of other people. According to Leslie, “right now” social media is the “most important” place for her.

However, the purpose of social media is to teach something completely different. Instead of proclaiming the value of authenticity, social media teaches a person to play a specific role. Instead of explaining the meaning of insecurity, they tell us how to present ourselves most effectively. And instead of learning how to listen, we learn which statements will be favorably received by the audience. Thus, Leslie is not improving at all at "recognizing" the thoughts and feelings of other people - she is simply more effective in getting her to be "liked".

Recently, I noticed a good sign: young people's discontent. Leslie is not alone in experiencing disappointment. Children, even very young ones, admit that they are upset by the increased attention of parents to phones. Some say with confidence that they are going to raise their children in completely different ways than they raised them.

What is meant by other methods? From Leslie's point of view, the child should grow up in a family where there really will be no phones at breakfast or lunch (and not just the ban on using phones, which adults themselves violate). Leslie would like her family to have a conversation at the table. However, children who are accustomed to dining in silence in their families do not feel prepared to socialize at lunch.

I remember a young man who said to me: "Someday - pretty soon, but certainly not right now - I would like to learn how to conduct a conversation." He added “of course, not right now,” because it was then, at that particular moment, that he preferred to correspond rather than talk. This young man is not sure he will be able to speak out if he is not able to edit his statements. He realizes that he needs to practice his conversation.

Practice is key here. According to neuroscientists, the human brain has a property that can be denoted by the phrase "use it or lose it." Carr N. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

P. 33.: "In the neurological aspect, we turn into what we think."

If you don't use certain parts of the brain, they stop developing, or the connections between them weaken.

More broadly, if young children do not use the parts of the brain that are activated by communication with an attentive parent, they do not form neural connections properly. You can call this the “missing chip” hypothesis. The name, of course, is a little frivolous, but the problem is really serious: if small children are not involved in the dialogue, they are already initially one step behind in development.

There is an analogy between a child's attitude to conversation and to reading. Educators complain that students - from high school and beyond - are losing out to their peers just a decade ago in their ability to read books that require continuous attention. Cognitive neuropsychologist Marianne Wolfe is investigating this shift away from so-called "deep reading."

Today, adults raised on serious literature can force themselves to focus on long texts and reactivate neural connections designed for deep reading if those connections have been lost due to the fact that people spend more time online than reading books. However, the challenge for children is to form these bonds initially. According to Marianne Wolfe's Reflections on Reading and Brain Plasticity, see Wolf M. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper, 2007. Wolfe's research inspired Nicholas Carr when he pondered a broader concept called your mind at Google. More information on Wolfe's recent work can be found in this article: // Washington Post. 2014. April 6. Wolfe, in order to get a child to turn to reading, you need to take the first and most important step - to read to the child and read with him.

The parallels with reading are obvious. To turn children around to face the conversation - and to learn the empathy skills of conversation - the first and most important step is talking with the children. Today we often notice that it is children who are not at all afraid to point out that high technologies too often get in our way.

How to Lead a Family Conversation in the Internet Age
How to Lead a Family Conversation in the Internet Age

Turkle examines in depth the impact of technology on our social skills and provides helpful tips to help you deal with the negative effects of internet communication. If you want to remember how to have a personal conversation and not be interrupted by instant messengers, or simply understand how social networks have changed our lives, Live Voice will definitely interest you.