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Digital devices during family time can exacerbate bad behavior

Parents who spend a lot of time on their phones or watching television during family activities, such as meals, playtime, and bedtime, can affect their long-term relationships with their children. This is according to new research that says that so-called "technoference" may lead children to show more frustration, hyperactivity, whimper, sulk or tantrum. The study examines the role and impact of digital devices on parenting and child behavior.

Technoference is defined as daily interruptions in face-to-face interactions due to technology devices. Recent studies estimate that parents use television, computers, tablets and smartphones for an average of nine hours a day. A third of this time is spent on smartphones, which due to their portability are often used during family activities such as meals, playtime and bedtime – all key moments involved in shaping a child's social-emotional well-being. When parents are on their devices, research shows they have fewer conversations with their children and are more hostile when their offspring are trying to get their attention.

In this study, 172 two-parent families (a total of 337 parents) with a child aged 5 years or younger answered online questionnaires as part of a parenting and family relationships research project conducted between 2014 and 2016. Participants indicated how many times per day different devices control their conversations or activities. with their children. Parents rated their child's internalizing behaviors, such as how often they kissed or how easily their feelings were hurt, as well as their externalizing behaviors, such as how angry or easily frustrated they were. The parents also reported on their own levels of stress and depression, the coparenting support they received from their partners, and their child's use of screen media.

In almost all cases, one or more devices encounter parent-child interactions at some point during the day. Technology can serve as a refuge for parents dealing with difficult child behavior. However, the survey results showed that this tactic had its drawbacks. Using an electronic device likely deprives parents of the ability to provide meaningful emotional support and positive feedback to their children, causing their offspring to revert to even more problematic behaviors, such as tantrums or sulking. This increased the stress levels of the parents and probably led to more withdrawal with technology and the cycle continues.