With the average adult spending 6 hours and 35 minutes on digital devices per day and an increasing number of children owning cell phones and iPads, technology is taking over our lives. While Googling how to remove vomit from your new velvet sofa at 2 a.m. does come in handy, we really need to be thinking about reducing our digital addiction.
If we think back to the time before mobile phones, when pay phone boxes weren’t just for Superman to change out of his pants, life seemed so much more relaxed. Having family dinners together, taking a walk in the park with the kids, joining in games of hide and seek are all things that we still try to do, but it’s easy to turn our heads when we get a notification.
Studies by two researchers from the University of Michigan and Illinois State University have shown that “technoference” (everyday interference in face-to-face interactions due to technology) is damaging parent/child relationships. If, as parents, we are paying more attention to our digital life rather than interacting with our children, the risk of them feeling frustrated by us increases. It seems that we turn to our devices to get a little respite from the demands of parenting, but we are actually making it worse. Or, our children are becoming more hyperactive, whiney, and unresponsive as we are not interacting with them effectively.
Once disruptive behavior begins, it can become worse as time goes on, as our children feel that they need to do more to capture our attention as we immerse ourselves in technology. As our children get older they will begin to model our behavior, which means that they too will become addicted to technology and will have less face-to-face interaction with their peers.
Time to get talking
With more time being spent on our devices, there are fewer conversations being had with our children. The studies on “technoference” looked at 172 families with children up to 5 years old who were asked to complete online questionnaires to assess their family relationships. Parents who used devices more reported more instances of tantrums and difficult behavior than those who spent more time talking to their children face-to-face. As a consequence of poor behavior from their children, these parents reported feeling stressed and anxious about life and parenting.
In order to improve your child’s emotional well-being you need to be more present. Now, experts are not asking us to ditch our cell phones altogether but we do need to reduce our consumption. Many smartphones now have a log of the amount of time we are spending on them so any reduction will have a positive effect on our families.
There will be times when you cannot avoid technology, especially if you work from home. It is important to have boundaries between work and family time and to let your children know when you will be working and when you will be spending time together. That means that you save your personal screen time until the children are at school or in bed to free up old school family time while you can.