Nadja Streiter’s oldest son is now 26. When he got his first cell phone, around 2006, he — like every other kid — entered the world of texting.
He had restrictions, due to a data plan. Not so his mother. Her 3 children said they would not talk to her while she was texting; she could not follow their conversation.
Streiter was horrified to think what things would have been like had she texted so much when they were younger.
Streiter is more than just a longtime resident of Westport (and conflicted texter). She’s a mental health professional.
Well over a decade ago, she grew alarmed at the consequences of constant connectivity. She envisioned being enslaved by devices, and wondered how the pace of life would change.
Streiter is not “anti-tech.” But she is serious about helping people “extract the positives and minimizes the negatives” of each new technology.
In 2015, she went back to school for her master’s. Now, Streiter consults and treats digital “illnesses” like video game addiction. She promotes and teaches digital wellness.
She speaks in numerous school settings — including Mike Caetano’s physical education class at Staples High — and for groups like the Rotary Club. She’s interviewed on podcasts, and writes articles. (One, inspired by her son, is called “Alexa, Where are Your Manners?”)
Streiter is also programs director at Game Quitters — an international support and education group. She wrote a program to help parents (and spouses and partners) deal with problem gamers.
Streiter says that people should be thinking about how they use technology. “It’s not inherently negative,” she insists.
In Caetano’s classes, she asks Staples students how often adults assume a teenager is doing something frivolous when they’re on their phone — even when they’re not. Everyone raises their hands.
“I stick up for kids,” Streiter says. “You can’t just say, ‘I didn’t need a phone when I was that age.’ You have to engage digitally to function in modern society.” She also knows that youngsters make and maintain friendships through their screens. FaceTime and Zoom can fill important social needs.
But to function well, we also need real-life, real-time human connections. Streiter avoids self-checkout kiosks at the supermarket; that’s one screen too many. “Little things chip away at over-use,” she says.
Youngsters see parents modeling behavior that like. But adults can also be explicit. “I’m using this device for work (or information, entertainment, or whatever),” you can say.
Then say, “I’m tired of this” — and shut it off.
Gaming is fun, Streiter knows. But so is taking a digital art class, or creating music with a software program. The key question to ask — and to encourage others to ask — is: “When is this device taking over my life?”
Working against “the will of multi-billion dollar companies’ is hard, she realizes. Her goal is to “raise awareness and fight. We can’t get run over by them.”
More than a decade ago, Streiter realized that new technology would lead to big changes — much of it unintended.
Looking ahead, what does she now see?
“We’re in the midst of a gigantic social experiment. Kids growing up today will be transformed into a slightly different species.
“We can’t predict what kind of jobs they’ll have. Will they be equipped for them? Probably.”
Streiter is more concerned with “the pace of life. We can spend all day keeping up with our tech connections. I know that personally: I need to be more than a therapist. I need a media presence.
“I can work more than 16 hours a day, and still have more connections to make. I worry about that for kids.
“We all have to do what we can to cultivate digital wellness.”