The answer is invariably: yes. 

Psychologist and Harvard professor Rebecca Rolland recently shed light on this issue–suggesting that the absence of genuine connections, caused by a lack of parental cultivation and the imposition of unrealistic standards, is shaping our children into individuals who act “robotically.” 

“We have superficial logistical conversations but spend little time in deeper conversations in which we fully listen,” she remarks. 

One would only need to look around in our technologically influenced world today–for better or for worse–where AI, as one example, is now considered a laudable equivalent to human creativity. 

But wait. Let’s dial that back somewhere closer to home. 

Alongside the technological onslaught, society at large imposes standards of perfection onto our children. 

Take, for example, our surrounding schooling systems, where the imposition of unrealistic standards is championed; suffering in the form of meritocracy is glorified. It deftly illustrates its own perpetuation of an increasingly competitive world that plays a part in shaping kids into a predetermined mould by emphasising achievements over emotional well-being and connection. It’s little wonder that a child would have to turn into a machine to keep up. Not to mention certain social expectations that dissuade the full spectrum of human expression within today’s culture of detachment and disconnection. Or just on the surface alone, how we interact with each other can be so wrought with superficiality–an indictment that often reveals itself when we start to consider the general lack of genuine interest in knowing the kids around us. 

But one thing is clear: the relentless pursuit of excellence during the earliest stages of development makes clear that the robotic behaviour we witness is an inevitability; an inevitability of their efforts to meet these unrealistic expectations instead of exploring their own authentic selves.

In a technologically driven era to contend with as well, it becomes increasingly challenging to ignore the impact it has on their upbringing. Screens are everywhere, and digital interfaces often mediate our interpersonal relationships. Though we aren’t one to completely knock the benefits of technology and keeping in touch with innovation and the modernity of learning, the constant, unchecked availability of entertainment, instant gratification, and virtual interactions inadvertently hamper the development of genuine connections in favour of the convenience of keeping them easily occupied. We then succumb to its influence. Rolland articulates this:

“Instead of talking to them, we load them up with experiences and don’t give them time to reflect. We are turning them into people who act robotically, and they are not creative people and do not follow their interests. Another very clear component [of this] is that there are children who are very focused on social media and using the internet. Of course, technology can be put to good use with children, but when they are too focused on searching [the internet] or looking at one perfect picture after another they don’t realize how much time they spend doing that. For example, I know of a case where a child was interacting only through social media.”

By raising kids who lack genuine connections burdened by perfectionism, we deprive them of the essential qualities that define their humanity. Empathy, compassion, emotional intelligence, and the ability to forge deep relationships are all at stake. These traits are not innate; they require nurturing through consistent and genuine interactions. It begins with encouraging them to think for themselves and to value their contributions–which starts with a mindful approach.

On talking mindfully to children, firstly: “This is very important. It is a fundamental change in the way children develop and relate to us. We are creating little moments for children that build up over time, and that builds their kindness, their confidence and their creativity.”

Underlying that mindful approach is a radical challenge that awaits us–one that asks us to reflect and move away from placing undue, excessive value on performance. Understanding that child development takes time to be nurtured requires us to take a pause of our own in projecting some of our hopes onto them. But most of all, it requires us to discard those moulds that form as a consequence of that, and which we inadvertently shape them to fit into. 

Rolland also offers a perspective on the importance of play and discovery in this venture. In the same vein of recognising their personhood as learners and people, it extends an opportunity for the child to discover things for themselves; taking charge of their exploration in a way that brings us full circle to self-directed learning and self-discovery.

It’s a real concern that children are growing up in an environment devoid of authentic connections. Under the weight of perfectionistic expectations, they become vulnerable to a myriad of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. The pressure to conform stifles their creativity, individuality, and ability to embrace their true selves. Becoming ‘robotic’ is the inevitable result of a culture that asks them to conform until they’re indistinguishable; their individual identities are stripped of colour. They become trapped in a cycle of striving for unattainable ideals, which erodes their sense of self-worth and hinders their overall development.

So, we reiterate: the answer to the question posed is yes, one way or another. Now or later. Inevitably, if not yet. Because this is a natural consequence of being human, ironically–the self-preservation of closing yourself off from vulnerability to cope with the pressures around you through detachment. It is as much a tragedy as it is an opportunity to reexamine those bonds with them.  

Reclaiming our children’s humanity and undoing this detachment begins with recognising the significance of authentic connections and embracing their uniqueness. Teach them, and also make the effort to remember, that their worth is not defined by external achievements but by their inherent value as human beings. Guide them in navigating and expressing their emotions, and emphasise the importance of self-attunement. 

But all of these wouldn’t be possible without this: the cultivation of a safe and non-judgmental space where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, fears, and dreams. The open and honest communication we wish for begins with us, by actively listening to their concerns without imposing judgment or unrealistic expectations.

Finally, remind them, and ourselves, that failure is a natural part of growth and does not define their worth. The ability to actually make and learn from mistakes is one of the most recognisable hallmarks of being a human, after all. Let’s not lose it.