Is Your Technology Obsession Causing Your Child’s Behaviour Problems?

Is Your Technology Obsession Causing Your Child's Behaviour Problems?

We live in a time where your cell phone can fit into your palm while providing you with the ability to reach anyone anywhere in the world.

You can watch a movie, read a new medical journal, run your business, play a game, check your email, and read new books. Many of us have our cell phones on us constantly.

Is Your Technology Obsession Causing Your Child’s Behaviour Problems?

We also have e-readers, laptops and several handheld devices. Our TV’s no longer broadcast a few channels, they’re smart and stream immeasurable content.

Many of us are constantly plugged in and using technology and some of us are even addicted. As parents, does this impact our children?

One study has found parents who struggle to limit time on their smartphones and other devices, are more likely to have children who exhibit behaviour problems.

What Is A Technology Addiction?

It seems the word addiction can be thrown out pretty easily. Are a lot of people really addicted to technology?

For this study, Brandon McDaniel, family and consumer sciences assistant professor at Illinois State University, surveyed 170 American families regarding the amount of “technoference” in their lives. Technoference is how technology interferes with relationships, interactions, etc.

Those parents who responded to his survey reported they felt lost without their phones, turn their phones on when they feel lonely, and check their phone often.

Feeling lost without an item and struggling to control how frequently you use an item would be considered an addiction to some. Regardless of the term, the study did find that technoference impacted children’s behaviour.

What Behaviour Problems Were Found With Technoference?

Children in homes where technoference was common were more likely to exhibit behaviour problems such as:

  • Crying spells
  • Turning feelings inward
  • Acting out
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • And other negative behaviours often associated with attention seeking.

Why would this be? If a parent is distracted by their technology, a child might be competing with a device for attention and using what they can (e.g. disruptive behaviour) to gain more attention.

When technology interferes with the parent-child relationship, it can also create a situation where a child’s emotional needs aren’t being met.

It’s easy to fix a meal, throw a load of laundry on or rock a toddler while still looking at your device. It’s not easy to hold a conversation, read a story, or talk through big feelings with your child while looking at a device.

It’s can be easier to notice the physical needs of our children, while missing the emotional ones, if you’re distracted.

Is This Just Another Study To Shame Parents?

We all want to do our best as parents. Yet everywhere we turn it seems we’re being told what we’re doing wrong. That little device which can eat up loads of our time, is also delivering the latest news that we’re failing our children.

This era of studies and evidenced based parenting decisions can make us feel completely overwhelmed. It can feel as if “science” is out to prove we’re incapable of properly raising our own children.

We live in a time where technology is simply part of life. Our children’s teachers send weekly emails, we read their paediatrician’s notes via a patient portal, and we research the latest car seat guidelines with our phones. Is unplugging even possible? Is it the answer to better raising our children?

It’s important to note some information about and quotes from the lead researcher to understand the purpose of his survey:

  • McDaniel is a family researcher and teacher and according to his website his research “focuses on couple and coparenting relationships, especially during the early years, with the ultimate goal of understanding the individual, couple, and family factors that bolster these family relationships and contribute to positive outcomes for parents and children”.
  • In response to this being part of the technological age we live in, he says “Yes, you’re going to be distracted sometimes, but we need to try to minimize those distractions, realizing that your children are not always going to be little.”
  • It may not be possible to fully unplug, but most of us can limit our technology use during times we’re interacting with our children. McDaniel said, “Let’s 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.”

McDaniel’s goal isn’t to shame parents with this, or any of his other studies. His goal is to help understand the impact that today’s technology has on families and how we can best manage it.

I’m Attached To My Phone But It Feels Necessary, What Can I Do?

We’re now coming to an age where new parents may not remember pre-smartphone days.

Having a smartphone in hand is nearly second nature to many of us. I didn’t have a smartphone when my oldest child was born a decade ago, but with my current baby, I nearly always have a phone nearby.

It can be easy to be on it constantly, especially as someone who works remotely. And then there are days where it seems my smartphone is my only contact with adults. You can only hold so many conversations with a three year old before it feels like your brain is missing out on intellectual conversation.

What can you do if you feel attached to your phone? It may depend on why you feel so attached. If you’re feeling lonely, which is common for many mamas, taking time to build your “village” may help.

Having regular, quality face to face connection can help you feel less lonely even when you’re home alone with your three year old for three days straight.

If you work long hours, and have little time for social interaction, it can help to make time to manage a bit of fun social time. Of course, this can be easier said than done, but it’s important to practice self-care even when it includes time to socialise.

In general, you may find it helpful to:

  • Have “no phone” times such as dinner, during bedtime routines, and times you’re playing with your children.
  • If you use your phone for work but you’re not on call, have set times to answer messages, emails, etc. and leave the phone down in between those times.
  • If you’re using your phone purely for entertainment and your child is seeking your attention, make it a habit to put your phone down and respond to your child fully.
  • If you’re feeling bored, try to rethink how you interact with your children. Playing trucks or dolls isn’t nearly as intellectually stimulating as chatting with your peers. However, when you really engage you might find sometimes it’s not just doable but enjoyable.
  • We often focus on limiting the screen time for our children, but we need to also be aware of and possibly limit our own screen time.

If you’re struggling to play with or interact with your kids, you may find these articles helpful:

Being a parent is hard. Being a parent during an era of technology and constant distraction can be really hard. While technology is all around us, it doesn’t need to control us nor does it need to have a negative impact on our children.

We can utilise the benefits of technology, we just need to be conscious of how much and the impact it can have on our lives.

Where Can I Learn More About Technology’s Impact?

We’re just beginning to learn about the impact technology can have on us, our children and our society. Fortunately, The Center For Humane Technology is leading the way in research and problem solving to combat the negative impact of our digital age.

Be sure to check out their link above. You can even join their movement to raise awareness and find solutions to our overuse of technology.

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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