"We’ve all seen it and, quite likely, been with people while they’ve had their eyes, minds and fingers focussed on their cellphone, Blackberry or iPad. Sometimes it’s as if their very soul is immersed." CNS photo/Paul Haring

Texting overload

  • January 31, 2012

There is a new social phenomenon affecting thousands of families. For many, it is bewildering, even infuriating. For others, it’s addictive.

I call this new phenomenon Together but Texting — people socializing through text messaging. We’ve all seen it and, quite likely, been with people while they’ve had their eyes, minds and fingers focussed on their cellphone, Blackberry or iPad. Sometimes it’s as if their very soul is immersed.

One day my husband and I went for a walk down by the lake. My husband noticed a young man playing Frisbee with his dog. At first, it was amusing to watch, then became quite sad.

I am not a dog lover, but I felt sorry for this animal. The man was throwing the Frisbee into the lake and, immediately after he released it into the air, he began texting. The dog would race into the water, swim the Frisbee back to shore and run with great anticipation to his owner. But when he got there, the guy didn’t even look up, let alone give the dog a pat. You know the world is off kilter when technology infringes on the relationship between a man and his dog.

I have discussed this phenomenon with dozens of people. Everyone has a texting story.

“My husband is a pilot and he’s admitted to flying an airplane while texting,” said a woman. 

Another mom: “I don’t know who my teenagers are talking to, but I know that what’s happening in that little mobile device seems to be more important than what’s happening in the present moment.”

Another woman told me that, while on a first date, she wondered whether her date was playing the field — or “wheeling” — in front of her. It made her feel terrible.

Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published a clinical report titled “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.” It’s a great read that helped me understand how texting and other social media activities can be harmful to young people and family life.

As Catholic parents, although at times overwhelmed by the onslaught of technology, we must stay informed. Did you know, for instance, that Facebook requires a child to be 13 in order to have an account but there is no effective way to police the guideline? And how many parents are familiar with “Facebook depression,” a condition researchers say can be triggered by overuse of social media? Or “sexting,” sending explicit sexual messages or images?

Navigating the ever-changing technology and its terminology is a parental mine field. But parents have a duty to do their best to stay informed and maintain some form of parental authority. On-Line Gamers Anonymous has a great web site for parents who fear their kids may have gone too far.

In our house, we stress the importance of giving full attention to the person you’re with. So I’m often telling my kids: “When you’re with someone, it’s important to be with them, to give them your gift of self and not to be distracted by technology. There is a sacredness in the presence of a person.”

I am in favour of ground rules  when it comes to texting. So, there’s no texting at the dinner table, while on family outings and while walking.

As any parent knows, it’s one thing to establish ground rules and quite another to enforce them. But no one said parenting was easy.

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