Today’s two findings link the digital world with relational outcomes that no one wants: abortion and unhappiness. The digital world is a two-edged sword. We know its benefits, but increasingly we are getting to know it’s down-sides. Japan, one of the most digitally saturated societies on earth, is experiencing one of technology’s noxious byproducts: hikikomori they call it, the shut-in lifestyle of young people who have withdrawn from society in fear and isolation to live, not socially, but digitally.
Being human, we are deeply relational from the first moments of our existence and thrive on good relationships throughout our lives. We are brought into existence by the most intimate and desirable of relational activities. We come into the world to be nursed and cuddled in an intimacy many of us, subconsciously, seek to recreate throughout life, especially if we did not get enough in infancy. We thrive in families that spend lots of time together, supporting each other in the tasks of life. This is made even easier for us if we live in a close community. Add lots of intact marriages and lots of weekly worship (both deeply relational) and life is pretty good for almost all involved. Children who grow up in these environments are much more likely to thrive in adulthood.
“Life in a Jewish Family” by Edith Stein, describes just such a family life in a close-knit Jewish community. It changed how my wife and I raised our children. Later it led me to frequently suggest to my daughters that, in their turn, they consider living close to each other, if possible, when they married and began their own families because their children would benefit from all the aunts, uncles, and cousins they would have around them. Better still, if they were anchored in a community of worship, and best of all if they had all this and friends close by. What gifts for all the children involved!
Charles Murray of AEI in Coming Apart and Robert Putnam of Harvard in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis tell pretty much the same story: upper-class parents, by and large, understand the relational needs of their children and that their own marriage is foundational to their children’s future. These parents are well educated and know the research. These upper-class parents also understand and practice the worship of God more than most!
But all this good work can be undone, even for the best of parents, should the digital get a hold on the imagination and habits of their children.
Here too, savvy elites catch on quickly: A few years ago, I gave a presentation to a group of very wealthy and highly educated married couples. The topic was ‘the benefits to children of the time married parents spend with them’. One of the couples recounted their smartphone strategy: every family member, including each parent, puts his smartphone into a big ceramic bowl in the foyer when he arrives home. The phones stay there until after dinner and, on going to bed, are put back there again until after breakfast … which they all have together as their start to the day. They insisted they knew the value of things and that the most valuable of all is time with the most important people in their lives … each other and their children.
With an eye to the child, the future of America,
Director, MARRI at CUA