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Even Short and Infrequent Tech-Related Interruptions to Parent-Child Time could have Dire Consequences

Posted May 28, 2017

When a child throws a tantrum, whines or acts out, parents usually point to three causes: boredom, fatigue and hunger. However, a new study published in the May 2017 issue of Child Development suggest that heavy use of electronic devices could be just as damaging.

In the study, mothers and fathers from 170 two-parent households were asked to fill out a survey where they had to answer a number of questions regarding their use of digital technology and the ways it affects family time.

Interrupting children to quickly check a text message or e-mail could have negative behavioural outcomes. Image credit:, CC0 Public Domain.

The study also controlled for multiple factors, such as parenting stress, depressive symptoms, income, parent education and co-parenting quality.

About half (48 percent) of the participants reported technology-related interruptions to take place three or more times on any given day, 17 percent said it occurred once, and 24 percent said it happened twice per day.

Results showed that even low to moderate amounts of ‘technoference’ – a term coined by the lead author Brandon T. McDaniel – can result in more pronounced behavioural problems, such as oversensitivity, restlessness and hyperactivity.

Given the cross-sectional nature of the study, it is too early to tell which way the causal arrow of time is pointing towards – it is entirely possible that parents of children with behavioural issues might be using technology to de-stress.

That being said, “we know that parents’ responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children,” said senior author on the study Jenny Radesky, M.D.

Since research has demonstrated multitasking to be a scientific impossibility, it is no wonder that parents struggle to divide their attention between content on a screen and the social and emotional cues of their offspring.

While the study was relatively small, McDaniel noted a growing, yet still lacking, body of research indicating the problematic aspects of ‘technoference’ – particularly ones that have to do with parents and their children.

For now, based on the findings, the authors recommend parents to designate a certain place or time of day where they could unplug all electronic devices and give their children some undivided attention.


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