Digital Dependence & Parental Anxiety: Keeping Trust Alive

Digital Dependence, Parental Anxiety and Trust | Marcy Axness, PhD
Parenting is a daunting safari into the unknown. It is a safari that will routinely lead you beyond the reach of the techno-savvy that has us convinced we can figure out and control everything in our lives. So for many, it’s a safari into parental anxiety.

What can you do about parental anxiety? Develop your own personal anxiety antidote: TRUST. A powerful antidote for parental anxiety, trust connects you to an unparalleled source of strength, paradoxically called “surrender”–perhaps the most important resources in your parenting toolbox! Along with a good supply of onesies, I counsel expectant parents to invest in and actively build their “trust fund.”

I define trust as “calm reliance upon processes outside of your immediate perception and control”; it is one of the seven principles that weave through my book Parenting for Peace. For those of us weaned on the information revolution, trust is probably the most subversive P4P principle of them all. When it isn’t overwhelming us, our instant access to infinite amounts of data on any topic has us convinced that by virtue of our techno-savvy, we can indeed figure out and be in charge of every aspect of our lives.

But Life will always manage to outrun your techno-management, trust me.

Prevent Parental Anxiety: Build Your “Trust Fund”

Begin now, I tell new parents, to cultivate a fond taste for mystery and the unfathomable. This ensures that by the time your child gets behind the wheel of a car — and you need trust to quell your parental anxiety like never before — it will be well-established and enduring, like a beautiful rosebush whose roots can reach deep beneath drought-ridden topsoil to find life-sustaining water.

Think of trust like a muscle: when you regularly call upon it to work for you, it grows stronger and increasingly able to do the lifting you’re asking of it. If you never use it, it weakens and gets smaller. Trust is like this, too: when you continually turn to an outside intervention or external resource instead of drawing upon your own resources to ease anxiety, your inner trust resources atrophy. When we don’t engage trust in our lives on a daily basis, that resource (the “trust muscle”) weakens and gets smaller.

The “App for That” Trap

Let’s take the example of electronic imaging technology in pregnancy. We no longer give a second thought to it, despite the fact that routine (as opposed to medically indicated) ultrasound use does not improve maternal or infant outcomes,[1] and despite mounting data suggesting it may carry unnecessary risks,[2]it has become the ubiquitous Baby’s First Photograph, and is now typically done during every prenatal visit.

Cultural anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd notes that women routinely come to see the image as the baby, that the murky blur on the screen becomes more real than any sensation inside her womb or her imagination.[3] Indeed, for most modern parents, their baby is somehow rendered more real by what Steven Mentor calls “the dominant reality engine of our time” — the screen.

The ultrasound screen gives way to the electronic fetal monitor, which morphs into the radio-frequency baby monitor at home, baby-care smartphone apps, and before long a GPS tracking app on the child’s cell phone.**

And all the while our inner knowing atrophies. Our capacity to trust diminishes. No wonder parental anxiety roils when our children finally begin venturing beyond our electronic surveillance net: as in the universal dream that features the I-never-went-to-class-and-today-is-the-final-exam panic, we are faced with the anguish of worrying, pacing and nagging if we have neglected year after year after year to foster and engage in a trusting collaboration with Life.

[**I write that facetiously: while I know that many of them do, I stand my ground and say that children shouldn’t tote cell phones, if only for neuro-developmental reasons.]

Begin When You’re Expecting

One of your most daunting Hero’s Journey challenges will begin soon enough—sheltering your child from technology and screens in a culture that worships them above almost all else. You can begin flexing those muscles by questioning your obstetrician’s assumption that you’re automatically willing to undergo monthly ultrasounds.

This is a great opportunity to build your trust muscle: rather than rely on images on the screen to introduce you to your baby, month after month, cultivate your inner awareness of his or her flourishing inside you. Do your homework, learn how ultrasound works, how its vibration may cause cavitation (formation of tiny gas bubbles) in cells. Be aware that some scientists have speculated that the fetal brain may be especially vulnerable to ultrasound effects because of the rapid growth and migration of brain cells taking place.[4]

There are certainly times when ultrasound is called for, but we’ve slid way down a slippery slope of breaking it out routinely for what seems like viewing amusement purposes. Keep in mind as you do your research that power levels for diagnostic ultrasound machines have increased eightfold (that is, 800 percent!) since the early 1990s, so prior studies of its effects may therefore no longer be valid.

Uber-midwife Ina May Gaskin offers a wise suggestion for how to respond if your healthcare provider wants to do an ultrasound scan that you’d prefer not to have: ask him or her what specific information they are seeking, and point out that there are other, sometimes better (more trustworthy), ways to assess, for example, fetal age or pelvic dimensions.

5 Practices to Cultivate Trust

  • If you are a list-maker, experiment with foregoing your “To Do” list for one week, with the conscious intention of inviting unseen energies within and outside yourself to organize what takes place. Yes, you’ll forget some items, but what a delight to be guided into unplanned activities. (A frequent side effect is when you realize that the things you forgot were accomplished on another day more fruitfully, in light of new circumstances.)
  • Make friends with your parental anxiety, uncertainties and worries: Hi, there, I know you well. Thank you for reminding me that <fill in blank with situation heavily on your mind>. I’m trusting it will all resolve in the way that’s right. Meditation and mindfulness are two of the best approaches to this maneuver.
  • When we want to develop an attitude more fully (such as trust), it helps to strive toward being worthy of that same virtue. One of the simplest yet most potent ways to develop trust is to build within yourself your own trustworthiness. Try to make your words and actions coincide with what is. If you say “I’ll meet you at three,” then be there at three. Don’t exaggerate (“It took forever in line at the bank” is really “I waited much longer than I was expecting to”) and don’t “ultimize” (“I’ll never do that again”…“It was the worst thing ever”). Practicing this kind of self-mastery will imbue you with a natural inner authority that makes parenting easier. And you’ll be many steps ahead when your children become preteens and teens, and fervently want their parents’ words to align with what truly is.
  • Digital Dependence, Parental Anxiety and Trust | Marcy Axness PhDTo inspire you as you cultivate this principle of trust, take in the words of poet Kahlil Gibran from his classic book The Prophet: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” Recognize that you are a collaborator with Life and detach a bit from the intensely personalized notion of our children. This can help refresh the atmosphere surrounding any stage of parenting with a more expansive perspective and the comfort of knowing you are not on your own!
  • When preteen years give way to teen years (which will involve driving and increased autonomy outside your sphere of direct influence), parental anxiety looms for many parents. The investment of working your trust muscle from the beginning can be a tremendous help for when the teen years arrive — just like undertaking a training regimen months before a demanding hiking trip.
    • Bodymind pioneer Louise Hay reminds us that the level of trusting surrender that we bring to our breathing is the level of trusting surrender we can bring to every aspect of life: most of us don’t fret or even give a thought to whether there will be a breath waiting to come in after we exhale! Just as our lungs, guided by intricate mechanisms in our brainstem, breathe without us controlling them, so too our lives very often breathe along better without our meddling attempts at direction. This is certainly true of parenting, in a paradoxical way: of course we need to make plans, have structures and boundaries in place, and have goals and visions, certainly. And then we let those intentions breathe us. We can “live out of pure trust,” in the words of Rudolf Steiner: “Truly, nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us. And let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, every morning and every evening.”

 

Digital Dependence, Parental Anxiety and Trust | Marcy Axness, PhD

 


[1] Gaskin, Ina May. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. New York: Bantam-Dell, 2003.

[2] Ziskin, M. C., and S. B. Barnett. “Ultrasound and the Developing Central Nervous System.” Ultrasound Med Biol 27, no. 7 (2001): 875-6.

[3] Davis-Floyd, Robbie, and Joseph Dumit. “From Technobirth to Cyborg Babies: Reflections on the Emergent Discourse of a Holistic Anthropologist.” In Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots, edited by Robbie Davis-Floyd and Joseph Dumit. New York: Routledge, 1998.

[4] Caddis, Dana. “Prenatal Ultrasound Safety: What Parents Should Know About Diagnostic Fetal Scans.” Suite101, www.suite101.com/content/prenatal-ultrasound-safety-a78544.

Images:
Katie Tegtmeyer through Creative Commons license
Robert Whitehead through Creative Commons license
Pink Sherbet Photography through Creative Commons license

 

For your reading convenience, here are the past Wired Wednesday posts:

Digital Dependence & Social Intelligence: Is Siri Dumbing Down our Humanity?

Taming Tech to Protect Sleep: A No-Brainer for Healthy Brains

Digital Mastery Tools for Parents: Slow Tech & iRules

Brain Hacking: Hijacking You from the Inside

Attention Deficits & Digital Devotion: 2 Pitfalls for Parents

“Don’t Use Your Device When…”: 2 Great Guidelines for Digital Mastery

Digital Imitation of Life: How Facebook is Like a Box of Donuts

Dataclysm in the Time of Alone Togetherness: Authors on Our Digital Dependence

Pained in Plain Sight: Digital Dependence Effects on the Body

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