Attachment, Technology and Helicopter Parenting

Erica Moltz, MA, NCC
Clinical Director
Adoptions Together

Ever-present gadgets we can’t seem to live without rule many of our lives so that when we are physically with our children, we are too busy to be genuinely with them.  Dr. Ron Taffel, a well-known family therapist who has worked with hundreds of families wrote a recent article in a popular journal.  He stated that a growing body of research suggests that this technology and the information overload it dumps on us undermine our ability and desire to interact with and focus on our children.

Many of us spend hours on our mobile devices that are always within arm’s reach, so that inevitably our attention is interrupted.  Between texting, tweeting, on-line chatting, Facebook, emailing and sharing Instragram photos, a lot of parents are distracted from really being with their children.  There was a recent study published by Jenny Radesky in the journal Pediatrics demonstrating that parents who were observed with their children in fast-food restaurants were spending more of the meal absorbed in their smartphones, ignoring their children who were making repeated and escalating bids for attention. 

What will it mean, therefore, that a generation of kids has grown up or will grow up getting this kind of agitated, fragmented distracted attention from their parents? What will it mean when hyperaroused parents can’t stop shifting their focus?  If attachment is based on focused interest, attention and attunement, how can chronic distraction translate into children experiencing secure attachment?

You may be wondering, “What happened to the era of “helicopter” parents who are too involved in their children’s lives?” This parenting style is still alive and well with those over anxious parents who encourage their child to participate in a bullet-train of activities that constantly re-directs the child to the next task that needs to be accomplished.  Just as with distracted, technology-infused parenting, “helicopter” parenting doesn’t equate with connection.  When kids are always on to the next activity, on a virtual conveyor belt, this kind of focused attention has the same effect as distracted parenting in that it does not provide anchoring and soothing, reliable attachment.

 Research shows that that restful downtime is necessary for kids’ brains to synthesize new information and to internalize secure attachment so that they can develop a sturdy sense of self. This means that along with setting reasonable limits, it is important for parents to strongly focus on creating points of connection and to become partners with their children in fun and relaxing activities during times when the parent is focusing attention on the child.

An effective strategy to help parents create points of connection that encourage attachment is for them to use the PACE model below that was developed by Dr. Dan Hughes, a nationally known attachment expert.  

P = Parenting with playfulness so that our children know we delight in them.

A= Parenting with affection and attention.

C=Parenting with curiosity about our child and what is behind their behavior.

E=Parenting with empathy so that our child “feels felt”.

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