The Relationship Between Parents, Children, and Their Digital Devices
I think we can all agree that many of us could stand to use our digital devices less frequently, especially smartphones. What does "technoference" mean for you, your child, and your child-parent relationship?
It would be fair to say that most of us have had at least one day where we’ve said to ourselves, “Wow! I didn’t stop using my phone AT ALL today!”
And that is as an adult.
Children are different when it comes to the overuse of digital devices because they don’t have a well-formed concept of too much. They simply use electronics all the time because it feels good; and besides, they see their parents using them all the time, too.
We’re going to get to that later, but first, I have a question: why isn’t the subject of digital device overuse talked about more? Especially when it comes to children.
I googled the above question, and I got a bunch of articles that debated whether smartphone addiction was even real. There were titles like, “No, You’re Not Addicted to Your Phone” or “Teens aren’t addicted to their phones, but we like to think they are.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that after doing some basic research, it appears digital device addiction is a real problem, especially in children and teenagers. I would also like to bring to light the fact that parents can sometimes be part of the problem as well.
Addiction in Children and Adolescents
At this point, so much research has been done on the relationship between digital devices and addictive behavior that I’m surprised nobody ever talks about it.
For example, it is documented that handheld devices can delay brain development in children younger than five years old and can even result in speech delays.
This makes sense because instead of interacting socially with their parents, family members, and peers like they should, their eyes are glued to a screen. When they should be playing outside, they are instead playing video games.
Of course, using electronics in moderation is perfectly fine, but it’s safe to assume that parents should not give their children unlimited access to devices and expect there to not be consequences.
Then, there are the adolescents. While spending too much time with digital devices will not cause speech delay in a teenager, it could actually lead to even worse consequences.
Increased online use, for example, has been linked to anxiety, depression, obesity, aggression, and addiction. Heavy use of certain video games has also been linked to addictive behaviors based on neuroimaging research.
This has been the most disturbing part of doing the research for this article. Everyone knows that there is a problem with young people and their digital devices. Young people seem much more disengaged with the world and with each other than they were 10 years ago, in my opinion, yet there doesn’t seem to be a lot of coverage on this topic.
We can all see it, but nobody is doing anything about it.
More research has uncovered that after one hour of use, more hours of digital device use were associated with more distractibility and an inability to finish tasks, as well as lower sociability, self-control, and psychological well-being.
Teenagers who used digital devices more than seven hours a day were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety in the last 12 months.
This is a large problem that seems to go over the heads of many American parents, and this might be because parents themselves also spend too much time on their phones.
I was shocked while doing the research for this article, not only by how little this topic is covered but also by how important this topic is in relation to child-parent interactions.
Technoference Between Children and Parents
In August 2022, a study was conducted in Qatar with 168 parents of adolescents. Results of a questionnaire given to parents showed that the more addicted the parents were to their digital devices, the stronger their children’s compulsions toward digital addiction were as well.
This is very important for parents to keep in mind because I think many of them don’t realize how spending too much time on their phones affects their own children’s habits. If you’re a parent reading this, do you feel like the amount of time you spend on your phone has cut into the time you spend with your child?
The Society for Research in Child Development performed a very interesting study into what is known as “technoference,” which is when a person switches their attention between another person and their digital device.
In the study, both mothers and fathers reported that their devices were interfering with interactions between them and their children at least once a day (40% of mothers and 32% of fathers, to be exact). 48% of parents reported technoference occurring three or more times a day. Only 11% of parents said that technoference did not occur at all.
Now, realistically speaking, some form of technoference will probably occur when you’re a parent. We live in a world now where logging onto the internet directly affects even your livelihood, so some leeway should be given. In my personal opinion, however, three or more times a day is too many.
But the most revealing piece of information came from Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect. In her book, Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children for her research and asked them questions about their relationships with their parents.
She found that children were feeling frustrated and exasperated with attempting to get their parents’ attention while the parent was distracted with a digital device. They felt like they were “competing” with the digital devices much as they would normally compete for attention with a sibling.
And let’s not forget how the habits of the parents affect the habits of the child.
I hope this article has opened your eyes to how your digital habits can affect your children. In the future, it is recommended to ask yourself certain questions:
Do I feel like my child spends too much time with a digital device? Does their mood change when separated from it?
Is it possible to have a talk with my child about spending too much time on a device?
What activities can we do together to bond with each other WITHOUT any digital devices?
The time you spend with your child is more important now than ever before. For whatever reason, this phenomenon of technoference is not getting the awareness it deserves, but there is good news! If it is true that a child’s device usage increases along with the parent, then the opposite should be possible as well. If you, as the parent, become more conscious about your device usage, your child will as well.
Always remember that you are the role model for your child. They are counting on you!