Published by Baker Books on August 4, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Parenting
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There's no denying the clear connection between overuse of devices--smartphones, computers, and video games--and the growing mental health crisis, especially in our children. Too much screen time has a real, measurable effect on kids' brains, self-esteem, emotional development, and social skills. We aren't controlling our devices anymore--they're controlling us.
In Disconnected, psychotherapist and parenting expert Thomas Kersting offers a comprehensive look at how devices have altered the way our children grow up, behave, learn, and connect with their families and friends. Based on the latest studies on the connection between screen time and neuroplasticity, as well as the growing research on acquired ADHD and anxiety, Disconnected presents a better way to move forward. Kersting shares indispensable advice for parents on setting boundaries and engaging in concentration and mindfulness exercises.
If you want to reclaim your family and reconnect with your kids, this hard-hitting yet hopeful book is the place to start.
In Disconnected, Thomas Kersting shares research data and anecdotes to show how negatively smartphones are affecting children’s mental health, social skills, and emotional development. His work as a psychotherapist has given him the opportunity to see the worst of the problems that device dependency can create, and even though it would be easy for a reader to dismiss this book as doom and gloom, the reality is that even if your children are fine, many of their peers are not. This book is a wake-up call for people who are concerned about Gen Z and future generations.
The Dangers of Smartphones
Kersting addresses a number of different issues, showing how radically society has changed in the past couple decades. He draws on published research to illustrate the link between the rise of the smartphone and massive spikes in anxiety, depression, acquired ADHD, and other health and social problems. Some of his stories deal with dramatic crises that most people won’t relate to, but he writes a lot about everyday situations that parents of tweens and teens will recognize from their own lives. He writes about health concerns related to electronics, the concentration-eroding effects of multi-tasking, and the ways that video game addiction and obsession with social media can erode children’s self-confidence, ability to connect with others, and ability to regulate their emotions.
He also addresses problems related to technology in school, showing how corporations are working in their interests, not children’s, when they donate devices to schools or promote their technology as the best way to learn. Although Kersting does not advocate for a return to an analog world, he provides compelling evidence for why technology creates more educational problems than it solves. He also points out the challenges that parents of children with extreme, addictive tech-related problems will face when the try to limit screen time, if schools insist that every child use the Internet and their devices to do basic assignments.
Disconnected: How to Protect Your Kids from the Harmful Effects of Device Dependency gives parents the information and encouragement that they need to make wise decisions for their children. I especially appreciate Kersting’s emphasis on the value of being counter-cultural. Just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean that you need to adopt the same practices, and even though it may be painful for children to experience social exclusion because they don’t have a smartphone, parents can withhold technology with their child’s long-term interests in mind and set a good example of going against the crowd to do the right thing. However, even though this perspective can encourage parents who feel pressured into doing something that they think is unwise, it is less likely to persuade people who feel strongly the other way.
Because of this, Kersting’s suggested solution seems like wishful thinking. He argues that because social pressure is the main reason why children have smartphones today, parents should band together and agree that they will not buy smartphones for their children. If no child has the desired object, then no one will have to feel jealous or excluded, and the children can have healthier childhoods. This is a nice idea, but actually putting this into practice would likely be very difficult. Even though he encourages parents to try to organize a movement in their child’s school or their community, I am dubious about the possibilities of parents finding enough support among others to effect meaningful social change.
Christian parents need to know that even though this book is from a Christian publisher, it has no Christian content, aside from one or two passing references to God. I can understand why Kersting would want to keep his important message accessible to the widest possible audience, but people who are expecting a biblical perspective on digital social issues will be disappointed. In the last chapter, Kersting praises the power of meditation and boredom, and talks about how kids should be allowed to fail, but that is as far as he goes when addressing what people can change about themselves or the way that they think. He does not have a message of redemption, does not draw on any wisdom from Scripture, and does not convey any sense of how Christian families could uniquely deal with devices in their homes.
In this book, Kersting helps parents recognize that smartphones and other forms of digital technology are most likely eroding their child’s self-esteem, concentration capacity, social skills, emotional intelligence, and ability to be resilient in life. He encourages parents to follow their gut when it comes to smartphones, instead of letting other parents’ permissiveness or a child’s pleading determine their values and choices. This book is primarily for people who are already critical or suspicious of smartphones, but Kersting cites so much research and includes so many stories from his clinical experience that it can be eye-opening for people who would commonly dismiss a book like this as fear-mongering. Disconnected helps parents understand how digital dependency is affecting the current generation, and even though Kersting is somewhat short on realistic solutions, this book is well worth reading for his expert perspective.