‘Technoference’ — or being distracted by your smartphone when you’re with your children — leads to kids whining, sulking and throwing more tantrums.
You can’t phone it in when parenting.
Parents and caregivers who spend a lot of time on their smartphones during family bonding moments like meals or bedtime can hurt their long-term relationships with their kids — and spur the little ones to act out — warns a new study published in the journal of Pediatric Research.
The report found that when parents are on their devices, they have fewer conversations with their kids. This so-called “technoference,” defined by researchers as the everyday distractions from digital devices, leaves the children feeling ignored, causing them to react in hostile ways. The report found that technoference can lead to kids acting out more emotionally, such as whining, sulking, being hyperactive and throwing tantrums.
Researchers asked 172 two-parent families (337 parents in total) with kids aged 5 or younger to answer questions about parenting over the course of 2014 to 2016, including how often different devices interrupted their conversations or activities with their kids each day. Parents then rated their children’s behavior as a result of the interruptions, documenting how angry or easily frustrated they became because of it, and how easily their kids’ feelings were hurt. The ‘rents also detailed their own levels of stress and depression, and their children’s screen media use. In almost all cases, one screen device or more intruded on parent-kid interaction at some point in the day.
Parents of children ages 8 to 18 reportedly spend an average of more than nine hours looking at a screen each day; and of that, they devote up to eight hours alone watching movies, playing video games and aimlessly scrolling through social media, according to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that studies the relationships between families and technology. What’s more, kids between the ages of 8 and 12 spend an average of nearly six hours per day staring at a screen; significantly more than the suggested two hour per day recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The AMA also urges parents of children ages 2 to 5 to designate media-free times together, such as family dinners.
The new study found that cell phone use deprives parents of giving emotional support or positive feedback to their kids, which causes them to revert to problematic behavior like throwing tantrums or sulking. This supports previous research that finds screen time is linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can worsen the increasingly strained relationships between kids and their parents.
Taking a brief “digital detox” of sorts during dinner or even on the weekend is one way to give your kids undivided attention, experts say.
“Trying to be more mindful of your actions and your behaviors, and when you’re reaching for your smartphone, is important,” clinical psychologist Dr. Shaun Wehle told Moneyish. “Try to understand why you’re escaping into technology; what’s overwhelming? Why can’t you tolerate it? Don’t just habitually play Candy Crush when you’re stressed. Make eye contact [with your child] and tune in to where they’re at emotionally. Recognize that they’re in an agitated state and respond accordingly.”
Wehle suggests leaving your phone off the dinner table during mealtimes, and taking time to unplug for a least two hours a day. And for those who are really feeling ambitious, he challenges parents (or anyone) to aim for two whole screen-free days on the weekend.
“It’s almost not acceptable to go for a week without a phone, but it resets our experience with technology,” he said. “Let your brain have a break from that type of thinking. Spend more time connecting with people.”
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