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 Giving Yourself a Tech Timeout Might Make Your Children Behave Better, Says Expert
  • Parenting is hard. We get it. When your children start to fuss and you feel a tantrum about to go off, you can’t help but want to tune everything out. So, you reach for the easiest form of escape — your phone. When you look up a short video clip later, your child is about to burst. Why’s that?

    A recent study found that parents who “escape from stress using technology” fuel their children’s challenging behavior, including oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity, and whining. “Even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with greater child behavior problems,” according to a Science Daily article.

    Researchers from Illinois State University studied 172 sets of parents with kids up to 5 years old to see how digital devices affect parenting small children. Parents were asked about their stress levels, their children’s behavior, and how many devices interrupted conversations with their children daily. Results showed that children have the tendency to act out whenever their parents are distracted by their devices, even if it’s for something minor, like a notification or a quick email check.

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    “Children note this and react, usually with more negative behavior,” said Brandon McDaniel, an assistant professor of human development and family science at Illinois State University, and one of the principal authors of the study, in a statement. “Parents get more stressed out, and may be more likely to withdraw into their technology, and now we’re stuck in a cycle.”

    Young children have yet to understand that just because mom and dad get a little distracted doesn’t mean that they are not loved. “[Children] have a more difficult time understanding that the parent doesn’t love the device more than them. They just keep seeing that their needs are not being met or validated,” shares McDaniel. A previous survey has also shown that children feel unimportant when their parents use their phones during meal times, conversations, when watching television, and playing outside.

    A similar scenario happened between Scarlet Snow Belo and dad Hayden Kho. In a previous SmartParenting.com.ph article, Hayden shared that his daughter had called him out for always using his phone. “I don’t feel you love me,” the four-year-old told her dad when she caught him using his phone during dinner. “You’re always busy. Even if we’re together, you’re always busy.”

    Instead of being defensive, Hayden immediately put his phone down to have a serious talk with Scarlet and apologize for his behavior. According to McDaniel, putting gadgets down during interactions with your child is intentionally breaking the cycle and can have a positive effect on your relationship.

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    3 ways to achieve a realistic tech timeout

    There’s no use blaming the parents for overusing technology — instead, parents should aim to break the cycle of escapism. McDaniel offers three tips to achieve it.

    Maintain eye contact

    The simplest way to reassure children that they are important and that they are loved is by looking into their eyes. When your child comes to talk to you, or signals to get your attention, look up from your device, make eye contact, and talk — even just to say, “I just have to finish this. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

    “It’s important to acknowledge children, to let them know they are seen and cared about,” McDaniel says.

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    Designate tech-free zones.

    This might differ depending on your family dynamics. If you have young children, start by making your bedroom (if you co-sleep) or their bedroom tech-free zones. “I knew a family that would not bring a cell phone into their daughter’s room,” McDaniel shares. “There was plenty of use outside the room, but that was one area that was meant just for one-on-one time with her.”

    Schedule a timeout and stick with it.

    You can further curb your digital use by assigning a specific schedule when not to use your device. It can be dinnertime, an hour after you get home from work, or even during this Holy Week. But the most important thing is to stick to your word. Trust us, your children will notice.

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