Warning to my Blog subscribers. This is an Op-Ed piece. If you haven't time to read it, just hit the delete key.
As I look around, I see so much evidence of people living in parallel lives, sitting in the same room, breathing the same air, sitting at the same table, and having no clue -- sometimes no interest -- about the feelings of those around them. So often, they are not on the same wave length and, in fact, have no sense or feeling of being in an intimate relationship -- whether that be wife/husband or parent/child.
Last night I was appalled to see the people at the next table in a restaurant pull out a small screen, and place it on the table so that their small children (about 2 and 4, I thought) would be "entertained." In fact, those children were out of the loop while the adults talked around them. A tantrum ensued when the entertainment ended as the group was about to leave. So much for parenting.
I hear frequently and read in the Washington Post, Boston Globe and New York Times about teenagers who are dysfunctional in parent-child relationships, peer relationships, school performance, future planning, etc. because of constant input and output from I-pods and text-messaging -- a digital loop that excludes intimate relationships.
The term "sex-texting" is now applied to some of these teen activities. See Parrack, Dave, Is teenager sextexting (sex texting) really a big problem? (August 7, 2009) [techblorge.com accessed August 9, 2009]; See also these comments to a Washington Post article in the "On Parenting" section of December 2008.
Drake Bennett writes in the Boston Globe on August 6, 2009 in a column titled "What you don’t know about your friends | Our closest acquaintances are nearly strangers to us - and that might not be so bad" the following:
"There are, after all, risks to this ignorance. We vouch for our friends socially, or recommend close colleagues professionally, and when we are wrong it has real consequences. Not to mention the fallout when one’s wife turns out to be a compulsive gambler, or one’s husband turns out not to be a Rockefeller but a German kidnapper.
"But it may be that our selective blindness about our friends provides a clue to what is so nourishing about friendships in the first place. While researchers are in agreement that friendships are good for us, they’re still not sure exactly why. There’s evidence that gender affects what someone wants in a friend - men seek out “side-by-side” friendships that center on sharing activities and interests, women look more for “face-to-face” relationships that provide emotional support and a chance to comfortably unburden themselves. Both require some measure of mutual knowledge to work, but they depend even more on a sort of nonjudgmental steadiness and presence. As much as anything else, what friends do is simply keep us company."
I happen to disagree with Bennett. First of all, I don't believe that friendship in and of itself is the glue of our social lives. In a functional world, the primary social life would be between husband and wife or between partners or between parents and children. I believe that there is more to life than living in a "side by side" or parallel existence with someone else.
Friends may keep us company, but intimacy in the family requires a lot more work. Spouses and partners owe it to themselves to love themselves enough to want and demand intimacy. Parents would do their children the greatest service, indeed an act of love and devotion, to teach their children that intimacy is the glue that will hold them together with their ultimate life partner and with their children.
I-pods and text messaging take all of the intimacy out of the relationship. My children are grown. I don't have to face this challenge. I encourage parents to take the hard road and to teach their children how to relate intimately with others. That lesson begins at home.