It has become a normal everyday occurrence to see people, of all ages and walks of life, constantly staring at screens. Cell phones, laptops, and tablets have taken precedence over actual human interaction. While shopping in grocery stores and malls, eating in restaurants, and even while enjoying a late afternoon stroll in a park, you can count more people staring a screen than not. Is this digital fascination dumbing down the nation? And if so, how do we correct the decline in human interaction and reserve the addictive, and often times negative, thought processes the internet allures to.

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Can we unite as a solid union to ensure that we successfully protect the next generation and our families and friends from this “dumbing down?” Is there an inevitable doom? Are there consequences for falling victim to the internet addiction? Could a digital diet teach a few valuable lessons to both the young and the old?

Negative effects on family time

This new age technology-crazed society we live in affects us all. Children and adults, even professionals with children in their homes have taken notice of some of these effects.

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According to Today, “How cell phones are affecting families — and what to do about it,” written by Rebekah Lowin, host Jenna Bush Hager spoke with Dr. Jenny S. Radesky, a developmental pediatrician at the Boston Medical Center, who studied parent-child interaction at fast food restaurants.

Her findings include, “More than 70 percent of the adults used their phones during the meal when the child is making bids, the parent would respond in kind of a mechanical way or a delayed way," she told Jenna.

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According to a recent study, “54 percent of kids think their parents check their devices too often and 32 percent say they feel unimportant when their parents get distracted by their phones.”

The ultimate reality that Radesky addresses is the effect a digitally addicted parent has on young children, “Research shows the impact of a parent's constant-connectivity, with young children often describing their reaction as "sad," "mad," "angry," or "lonely." Doctor Radesky even admits to witnessing problematic behaviors in her own life saying, "When I have a lot of stuff to do for work or I have an e-mail to respond to, all those little cute approaches and, Mom, read to me and everything is...it creates more tension."

If even a pediatrician that studies parent-child relationships sees this problem in her own home, are we as a nation going band together to overcome the lack of human interaction that is caused by the nation’s undeniable addiction to technology?

Avoid the inevitable doom of our teens

One of the most important things we, as parents, must ensure we teach our children is the difference between “texting” and proper grammar.

Per Megan Gannon of Live Science, “Texting May lead to bad grammar - many tweens take shortcuts or use so-called techspeak when sending text messages." To study the effect of texting reports Live “Northwestern researcher Drew Cingel gave a group of middle school students in central Pennsylvania a grammar assessment test.

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The students were then given a survey that asked them to detail how many texts they send and receive, their opinions on the importance of texting and the number of shortcuts in their last three sent and received text messages.”

Cingel confirms the results of the survey and the test, which were reported in the journal New Media & Society, “showed a link between poor grammar scores and frequent texting” and an alarming affirmation, “What’s more, both sending and receiving techspeak-riddled texts seemed to affect how poorly the students performed on the test” as well as an announcement to adults, “This suggests tweens might not be initiating all their bad language habits, but might also be influenced by the grammatically incorrect messages sent by their family.”

Cingel goes on to reach out to parents to be cautious about frequent cell phone use and to teach proper language skills due to children shows sign of difficulty in switching back and forth from techspeak and proper grammar. A difficulty he states crosses over into school and leads to low scores on written assignments.

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Cyberbullying

While on the subject of how teens talk when hidden behind the screen of safety is the perfect time to also discuss the increasing issue of Cyber Bullying. Cyber Bullying: Facts and Statistics, an article provided by the TeenSafe website was designed to highlight areas of concern (one of which is race, 26 percent of teen cyberbullying is based on race) and provide parents a way to keep up with trends and hopefully protect their teenagers. The article proposes several warnings to parents, "the devastating reality is that research has shown little improvement when it comes to our kids and digital aggression.”

This warning is confirmed by an alarming statement, “In fact, one study has shown that rates of cyberbullying have only increased since 2010!” Furthermore, the numbers continue to climb, “87 percent of today’s youth have witnessed cyberbullying, close to 34 percent of students acknowledge that they have experienced cyberbullying. 15 percent of surveyed students admitted to cyberbullying others, 24 percent of our sons and daughters report that they do not know what to do if they would be harassed online, 39 percent of our children do not enable their privacy settings on social media, one out of three kids feel they are more accepted on social media networks than in real life.” These are numbers no parent wants their child to be a part of. One other statistic parents often do not want to face is the teen suicide rate, “30 percent of children who have been bullied have suicidal thoughts, a five percent rise from 2013 statistics and 10 percent of children have attempted to take their own lives due to bullying” attention getter right there!

What about our marriages?

Modern-day technology addiction can and does take a toll on adults and marriages also. “Internet Addiction Harming Marriages,” an article written by Elizabeth Stewart and viewed online via Deseretnews provides the thoughts of several professionals and institutions. Psychiatrist Dimitri M. Christakis asserts, “Internet addiction is an emerging epidemic. Those who are manning the trenches in the mental health care industry appear on the same page.” Information is also offered specifically about college-aged adults, “Eighty-four percent of college counselors agree or strongly agree that Internet Addiction Disorder is a legitimate ailment, according to research from the University of La Verne and a recent Stanford University School of Medicine study indicated that "their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use." Eighty-four percent of people aged 19 to 29 said they would rather do without their current partner or their car than give up Internet access, according to a survey conducted by the German broadband association Bitkom. In a 2011 survey, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found one in five failed marriages are destroyed by social networking.

There are possible remedies

The most obvious solution to this literal addiction to the internet is to set time limits on the internet, for ourselves and our children. The biggest obstacle is to ensure we follow through with the internet curfews we put in place. According to Webroot, "Internet Addiction; What Can Parents Do?" the number of hours’ kids spend in front of a screen is staggering and they urge parents to intervene, “kids ages eight to 18 spending on average 44.5 hours per week in front of screens”, parents are increasingly concerned that screen time is robbing them of real world experiences.

Nearly 23 percent of youth report that they feel "addicted to video games" (31 percent of males, 13 percent of females.) These are the results of a new study of 1,178 U.S. children and teens (ages eight to 18) conducted by Harris Interactive (2007) that documents a national prevalence rate of pathological video game use.

These long hours in front of a screen cause many ill effects, the Director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery identified potential warning signs for children with pathological Internet use saying an addicted child; “loses track of time while online, sacrifices needed hours of sleep to spend time online, becomes agitated or angry when online time is interrupted, checks email several times a day, becomes irritable if not allowed access to the Internet, spends time online in place of homework or chores, prefers to spend time online rather than with friends or family, disobeys time limits that have been set for internet usage, lies about amount of time spent online or sneaks online when no one is around, forms new relationships with people he or she has met online, seems preoccupied with getting back online when away from the computer, loses interest in activities that were enjoyable before he or she had online access, becomes irritable, moody or depressed when not online.” These are serious effects that must be minimized and closely monitored.

Take a look in the mirror

The first step is self-modification of our own technological addictions and then to ensure others follow our newfound way of life. How we all view the world has become altered by, controlled by and determined by what we view online. Pearsons Media Studies offers readers an abundance of theories to explain the consumption of mass media.

Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci offers a theory on power, “the civil realm is more diffuse, incorporating organized religion, education, the media, and power culture as well as the private sphere of the family and home.” Gramsci does, however, offer an argument that put the power back in the home, “the powerful would never hold absolute power because wherever there is power being exercised, there will be resistance to that power and negations to those limits and parameter of the power will arise.”

Zygmunt Bauman, argues that “consumption is an investment in any and everything that matters to the person making the purchase ‘social value’ and self-esteem, thus the vital, perhaps the decisive purpose of consumption in the society of consumers is not the fulfilment of needs, desires and wants, but the commoditization of the consumer: raising the position of consumers themselves to that of marketable commodities” explaining the average adult consumer, this is bound to be more complexing to young consumers.

According to Turkle,"The metaphor of addiction leads us to a very hopeless and negative way of thinking -- if we think of this in terms of addiction, there's only one thing to do and that's giving up the substance.” Turkle closes her bold statement with a bitter reality saying, “we are not going to give up this technology so it's much more helpful to talk about things in terms of a digital diet." A reality many may never accept. “The Internet is an amazing tool. But even as it's shrunk the world and brought us closer together, it's threatened to push us further apart. Like any useful tool, to make technology serve us well requires the exercise of good judgment” So please, remember to do two things, think before you type and above all remember to be nice.

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