Weekend Doctor: Interruptions by technology

By Caitlin Tully
The Center for Family Safety and Healing
Nationwide children’s clinic*

Balancing the demands of caring for children with other responsibilities in life is a challenge for many parents. Many things require our attention, and we can easily get distracted by a phone notification or lose track of time scrolling through social media. The lives of many parents are even more digitally connected during the pandemic. This can affect family health.

“Technoference,” a term created by researcher Brandon McDaniel, is defined as the everyday interruptions in our quality time together because of technology. Digitally distracted parents interact less with their children, and children are likely to increase connection-seeking behavior when a parent is distracted. Children who compete for parental attention with digital devices are at higher risk for behavior problems such as whining, restlessness or outbursts of anger. The best thing parents can do to disrupt Technoference is build digital wellbeing skills.

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Digital wellbeing refers to the impact of technology and digital services on an individual’s health, including emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. This includes the device or app-based tools we use to manage the time we spend online, behaviors we track online, and emotional tools we use to process our online experience.

The first step to digital wellbeing is understanding how you interact with technology. Here are some statements to consider:

I tend to lose track of time when I’m on my phone.

I feel like I’m missing something important if I don’t check my phone right away.

I stay on my phone instead of sleeping at bedtime.

If these statements apply to you often, there are resources and supports to bring more balance into your life.

Digital wellness and screen time resources can be used on Android and iPhone devices. Many social media platforms offer app-based resources, including screen time management, restrictions, and media literacy tools like TikTok’s digital wellbeing tools. This can be especially helpful for users who often lose track of the time on their devices.

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Common Sense Media offers articles and guides for adults looking to keep their families safe and productive online, including a family toolkit developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children need “media mentoring” from adults. It is important for adults to consider their own relationship to technology and stress before implementing digital strategies for youth.

Eliminating all screens from our lives is unrealistic, especially for families with children of different ages. Most helpful is to consider the quality of digital media, how it will fit into your family’s lifestyle, and how your children will interact with it. Device-free dinners can create screen-free moments of connection for busy families.

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Technology can have a positive impact on parenting, including increased access to inclusive communities and helping parents maintain relationships with distant relatives and friends. However, social media can also negatively impact parents’ emotional health through lack of sleep and negative comparisons to other parents.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by technology, emotional tools can help. Mindfulness—our ability to stay in the present moment without judgment—can support emotional regulation for parents. Try turning off your phone 30 minutes before bed and practice deep breathing. If you find yourself feeling down after scrolling through “perfect” family photos online, remind yourself that social media isn’t real life and you’re doing your best. Digital wellbeing isn’t easy, and you’re not alone.

*Through a collaboration between Blanchard Valley Health System and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the content of this article was provided by pediatric experts courtesy of Nationwide’s 700 Children’s® Blog.

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