Technology is a parent's best friend and worst enemy at the same time. We say it's a friend because it is a convenient and reliable communication tool. It's how we keep in touch with people in our circle and check out what's happening to the rest of the world at the same time. But technology has also been a distraction. A recent survey by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that helps parents, educators, and children negotiate media and technology, found that parents spend more time on screens than their kids. Grown-ups spend almost eight hours on our phone or tablet watching TV, playing video games, social networking, and surfing the web.
And our kids don't like it. A global survey revealed that children feel unimportant when their parents spend too much time on their mobile phones. Past research has even shown that phone-distracted parenting could adversely affect your child's brain development. Now, another research has found that spending too much time on your phone could also indirectly affect your kids' behavior.
Researchers from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and Illinois State University in Normal analyzed surveys completed by 170 two-parent households in the U.S., whose children were aged just over 3 years, on average. Moms and dads answered survey questions about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other technology and how it affects family time. They were also asked to observe their children's behavior for two months, noting how often the little ones whined, sulked, showed signs of hyperactivity, were irritable, or easily became frustrated.
A small study, published in the journal Child Development, revealed that parents who often check their phones, feel helpless without their phones, or turn on their gadgets when they're feeling lonely reported the highest number of interrupted parent-and-child interactions.
About half of the parents said interactions during dinnertime, playtime, and other activities, as well as conversations with their children, were disrupted more than three times a day. Twenty-four percent of the parents said that technology interrupted them twice daily, while 17 percent stated that it happened only once per day. Only 11 percent of the study participant claimed that technology does not interfere with family time.
Brandon T. McDaniel, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University who designed and carried out the study said the interruptions during family time caused by digital technological devices were associated with greater child behavior problems, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity, and whining.
The researchers stressed that while the study does not suggest a direct causal connection, it adds proof that gadget use by parents may be linked with less-than-ideal interactions with their children. As the study notes, parents may find it "difficult to read and respond to child cues and effectively manage difficult child behavior" when they’re distracted by text messages, call, and other media consumed through technological devices.
And kids tend to escalate bad behavior when they're trying to get their parents' attention and feeling ignored. The parents will then respond in anger or frustration.
"It's really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time,” senior study author Jenny Radesky, M.D., child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott, said via a press release.
McDaniel, who is also a family and consumer sciences assistant professor, tells Chicago Tribune, "We need to critically examine our device use."
In the study, mothers who perceive their children as more "behaviorally dysregulated" may use digital technology to lower their stress levels. Many stay-at-home mothers reported it “as a way to 'escape' the boredom or frustrations of childrearing, or to regulate their own emotions or arousal (Radesky et al., 2016)."
McDaniel advised parents to "be mindful of how phones can influence us so that we can be the master of our phones instead of our phones being the master of us."
Here are three ways to control your tech habits.
Carve out designated times periods to unplug and put away devices. Mealtimes and playtime should be gadget-free, so you focus all your attention on your kids.
Set no-technology areas in the home -- start with these three areas: the dining room, bedroom, (tech use affects people’ sleep quality and quantity, too!), and car, according to media experts.
Disable phone alerts when you get home to help ease family tensions caused by the modern blurring of outside worlds with home life.
“Parents may find great benefits from being connected to the outside world through mobile technology, whether that’s work, social lives or keeping up with the news. It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home,” Radesky told PsychCentral. “But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.”