This generation of parents has seen an unprecedented growth in technology which comes with pros and cons. While the benefits of more advanced technology are inarguable, recent research has shown that there are also significant drawbacks to technology use in parenting, particularly related to the parent-child relationship.

The Effects of Technology

drawbacks to technology use parentingA 2013 study conducted by Northwestern University found that about half of families identify as “media-moderate families”, meaning that the parents consume around 5 hours of media, and a child about 3 hours, per day. 42% of these parents reported enjoying watching television and movies together with their children and 81% stated that they are very/somewhat likely to use TV as a way to occupy their child at home. A 2012 study found that mothers are the most active users of technology, averaging 6 hours per day on their smart phones alone. Mothers also report perceiving technology as an interruption to interaction with their children, particularly during unstructured parenting times, such as playtime.

With technology entrenched in our everyday lives, technological interruptions are bound to occur. We have all experienced it. There is the phone call at dinner, a text message that makes you take pause mid-conversation so that you can read, maybe even respond to, it. Face-to-face interactions are continuously interrupted or even placed on the back-burner. Then there is the “spacing out” while your children play or watch TV, mindlessly scrolling through blogs, Pinterest, or Facebook. Technology has become such a distraction that states have had to make it a law that you cannot use your device while driving, a time when your undivided attention should be on the road, not on a tiny screen in your hand. Researchers have coined the term technoference to define “everyday interruptions in interpersonal interactions or time spent together that occur due to digital and mobile technology devices.”

Studies have found that technoference is linked to fewer parent-child interactions, lower responsivity to children’s needs, and an increase in frustration and aggression in response to a child’s desire for attention. The effects of this leave children feeling ignored, unimportant, and detached.

A significant problem is that a child’s brain development is relational. Infants and young children who have what Harvard researchers call “serve and return” interactions that are emotionally responsive develop cognitively, emotionally, and socially better than those whose interactions are not as responsive. So, when technology interferes with our ability to respond in a timely and emotionally appropriate way it can actually be damaging to our child’s development.

What to do about Technoference?

Set boundaries – One of the simplest things we can do is set boundaries for both our children’s media usage and our own. You can have technology free areas of your home, or times of day such as during mealtime, bedtime, or right after school when your children are excited to see you.

Track your usage – Most parents track how much time their children spend using technology but are we keeping track of our own media usage? Consider setting limits for yourself as well. There are Apps you can use that make it easy to track the time you spend on your phone.

Turn off technology when not in use – We turn off the lights when we leave a room. Take a cue from that and make turning technology, such as television and computers, off when not in use a habit as well.

Create a designated place for your phone – It is easy to get distracted when you have access to your distraction. Another easy way to prevent technoference throughout your day is by designating a place to keep your phone. By keeping it out of sight you decrease the temptation to look at it, providing more opportunities to respond timely and appropriately to your child.

While it is not necessary to completely stop technology use in parenting, or for our children to have 100% of our attention all the time, having a healthy balance is important. Making sure that the relationship with our children is emphasized and that technology takes a back seat to the interactions we have with them. It is beneficial for the relationship with our children, for their cognitive, social, and emotional development, and for our own mental health as well. With these easy tips you can reduce the amount of time spent interacting with technology and increase your ability to respond to your children in a way that promotes healthy interactions and development.

Christakis, E. (2018). The Dangers of Distracted Parenting. The Atlantic
McDaniel, B., Coyne, S. (2016). Technology interference in the parenting of young children: Implications for mothers’ perception of coparenting. Social Science Journal. 53(4). P435-443.
Perez, S. (2012). One-Third of U.S. moms own connected devices, 97% of ipad moms shopped from their tablet last month. Tech Crunch.
Wartella et al. (2013) Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology, REVISED, Northwestern University.