Finding The Spirituality In New Media

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Are we all actually swirling topsy-turvy in a new media frenzied universe, or do we just think we are?

I don’t know the answer, or am even sure about what this question ultimately means. But I do know that we are still people with bodies, minds, and souls. We come in as babies and go out as oldsters and live a life in between that is hard and wonderful and that we try to make sense of. We need each other and our families. We have no great answers to the great riddles, but are steadily discovering more and more.

Do these new technologies really change things as much as we think they do? I think not. IMHO we are just bedazzled and awed by our own brilliant engineering.

So — please, please, please — let’s go back to basics, let’s get a hold of ourselves, and let’s stop ooing, ahhhing, and wringing our hands. Let’s all hold hands and let’s never forget to hold our children.

Taming the Tech-Wild Child

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“Younger and younger children are now in charge of how they consume media, and they are mostly consuming junk,” explains child psychiatrist, Dr. Eitan Schwarz, MD. “Excessive consumption can cause emotional difficulties, as well as result from existing ones. Children need the thoughtful, active and positive guidance of their parents in this amazing Wild-West tech environment. Merely restricting access is just not enough.”

Kids and Tech – Tips for Parents:

· Take Charge – Have confidence and take charge. Youcan manage this important area of your kids’ lives. Many parents too readily take a back seat and let kids take the lead. In what other important area of life would they let that happen?

· Media are Appliances – Start thinking of media as family appliances that must have positive values. Kids treat media as toys, but they are in fact adult tools with enormous power. Would you let your unsupervised young child use the telephone or oven? Only devices with proven benefits belong in children’s hands.

· Technology is Healthy – From infancy onwards, teach kids to appreciate technology as a healthy and routine part of family life. Starting young, children will learn that using technology is collaborative and social — and not an isolating solitary activity.

· Include the Whole Family – Create a new environment around the online family computer and other media to promote mutuality, fun, respect, and development for the entire family. Moving the home computer away from the wall and arranging seating all around it will make it a popular center for family life.

· Make Media a Positive Learning Tool – Just as you already shop for healthy food, harvest the positive opportunities offered by media. For example, for every age group there are wonderful internet sites that offer a world of learning entertainment experiences.

· Create Healthy Media Rules – Tailor healthy media diets into daily menus for each child to provide development opportunities. For example, regularly require enough online time on sites that enhance good values and education enrichment.

Eitan D. Schwarz, MD FAACA DLFAPA is a doctor who knows kids, media, and families. He is board-certified in both general and child and adolescent psychiatry. He has recently researched the use of digital media in play therapy with children. See

Dr. Schwarz is the author of Kids, Parents, and Technology: An Instruction Manual for Young Families.

*Data is from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Huffington Post: The Empathic Web and The Family Education Network: How to Teach Empathy


Neuroscience is beginning to teach us about how complex functions like empathy actually work.

Our brains are pre-wired to connect us with others. We have special neurons – mirror neurons — that can react to what we sense others may be doing or feeling. How this process develops is then determined by our early relationships, and how this information is processed is what makes us more human than other primates. Empathy is an inborn human ability that can be shaped further by life experiences in which family life is crucial.

Take the Golden Rule, and see how complicated it is to actually ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ To truly get there, we have to have many brain calculation abilities. Certain brain disorders, inborn defects in parts of the system, and poor early experiences can all compromise this very complex process, yet most of us of us have a range of normal empathic abilities.

How does the ‘connectivity’ that new technology brings affect all of this? In early life, eye-to-eye, face-to-face contact and physical touch are crucial for the development of needed brain circuits. Sometimes, parents who are unintentionally distracted by an ever-present TV or intrusive smart phone or computer are not present enough to connect with their young kids, and may harm the development of these circuits.

We must keep our babies’ brains green in this area!  I describe the mind/brain calculations we need to make empathy and the Golden Rule work and what parents can do to use technology to benefit family life and development of children in my new book.

Technology at the Margins — Social Innovators and Innovations

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Closer to home, now over a decade since Information and Communication Technology has permeated our homes big-time, junk media consumption by technology-soaked children has parents, pollsters, and others wringing their hands. And for good reason – according to the recent Kaiser family Foundation survey, 1/5 of kids spend 132 hours/week on media. Their grades are down and they are not happy.

So what is anyone doing about this? Too little, I am afraid. We need entrepreneurial innovation here desperately and leadership from industry. I was hoping that Microsoft Tabletop Computer was a beginning towards bringing families together. What happened?

So I wrote my book.

Children & Brand Awareness: They’re Never Too Young to Say “GeekDad”


Cradle-to-grave marketing started with Disney, still king in this space. “And the merchandisers know what they are doing. Marketing is now an applied science that encompasses sociology, psychology, and anthropology. And the youth market is a multi-billion dollar industry, working its way to younger and younger consumers directly, through parents, and even through school curricula, making parents teaching kids to become wise consumers increasingly necessary. In Buy, Buy Baby (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007, ISBN 10:0-618-46351-8, pp 193-206) Susan Gregory Thomas describes the inroads marketers have made into the daycare industry.” (from chapter 11 of my book).

PBS Frontline — Digital Nation: ROUNDTABLE With Correspondent Douglas Rushkoff

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As a child psychiatrist and author interested in this area, I found the program and general increase in awareness spawned by the Kaiser Family Foundation report important wake up calls. Certainly, we are undergoing major changes within turbulent technology / human / kid / family intersection. I am optimistic — we have an opportunity for people to appreciate that we have in our hands powerful tools and a chance to ask “How can we think, plan, raise families, and turn this opportunity into something great.”

IACC Unanimously Approves 2010 Strategic Plan for Autism Research

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Given that cutting-edge neuroscience research is showing how wonderfully sensitive Baby’s developing social- and related brain functions are to caregiver attachment behaviors and attunement; and given that there has been an explosive increase in recent years in intrusive mobile media use — like cell-phoning, and now, texting; has anyone seriously investigated how such increased unintentional media-induced caregiver distractibility could possibly be one contributor to the tragic current rise in autism and related disorders?

Even if not contributory, don’t we need to know more about the impact of interactive media on young families’ functioning?