How Your Smartphone Usage Is Damaging Your Children

Read time: 3 Minutes

We can all be a little guilty of it. Scrolling through our social media feeds, reading a news story, watching a bid on eBay, only to realise that our child is standing right in front of us, mid conversation and we haven’t heard a word they’ve said.

In Ireland, 90% of us use the internet on a daily basis, spending an average of 5.5 hours per day attached to our devices – that’s a third of our entire days.

It should come as no surprise to day that using our smartphones so regularly has an impact on our children.

A new study published in the May 2017 issue of the journal, Child Development, has shown a strong link between a parent’s smartphone usage and a child’s bad behaviour.

The study asked parents to rate how problematic their device use was, based on how difficult they felt it was to resist checking messages and worrying about calls and texts. The study participants also reported how often their devices diverted their attention when otherwise engaged with their children.

Of the 300 parents who took part in the study, around half said that technology typically interrupted their parent-child time three or more times a day, with 24% reporting twice a day and 17% reporting once a day.

Child using a tablet

The author of the study, Brandon McDaniel, concluded that children were likely to act out and behave badly as a result of being ignored for screens.

Parents answered questions about how often their children sulked, whined, became easily frustrated, threw tantrums or showed signs of restlessness and hyperactivity over the prior two months.

The findings showed that even low or seemingly “normal” amounts of technoference (the term coined by McDaniel to describe the phenomenon) were associated with more behavioural problems in participants’ children.

He said: “Even minor, everyday intrusions of technology that are likely happening to all of us that have and use smartphones can begin to influence our children’s behaviour.”

How to limit ‘technoference’ with your children

We all know that we should try as hard as we can to spend quality, device-free, time with our children but tearing ourselves away from our phones, laptops and tablets can be easier said than done.

Our devices have almost become part of us; for some we feel like we need them there constantly for work purposes and for others, picking up and scrolling has become an unstoppable force of habit.

But if you are determined to break that habit, there are a few things you can try to minimise the ‘technoference’ between you and your kids.

  1. Talk more

Even if you aren’t able to reduce the time you’re spending on your device, use the one-to-one time that you do have with your child wisely. Engage and listen to them, ask questions about their day, their interests and their hobbies. Make them feel listened to and appreciated to minimise bad behaviour.

Parent spending device free time with child

  1. Make meal time device free

How many times during a family meal, have you looked around and realised that everyone around the table has their face glued to a screen? When having meals together, encourage everyone to participate in conversation. Studies show that children who regularly eat 20 minute meals with their family are also less likely to be obese.

  1. Observe behavioural changes

Pay close attention to your child’s behaviour when there are screens involved. Be aware of how your screen time impacts them and if their periods of acting out can be directly attributed to being ignored for devices. Note that children learn by example and if they see you ignoring others to use phones or tablets, they will follow suit and believe that this is acceptable.

  1. Treat all devices equally

The average family these days can have 10 devices or more in the household. If you are trying to decrease your use of phones or tablets, don’t just sit in front of the TV instead. Use this time to engage in completely screen-free time.

  1. Use your brain, not Google

One of the main excuses for using devices, is that they are educational. But as they become more entwined with our daily lives, we can often use them as replacements for our own knowledge. If you constantly turn to Google to find the answers to questions, your children will begin to do the same; diminishing the value of personal general knowledge. When questions arise that you don’t know the answer to, spend time as a family figuring things out or analysing the answer to continually learn together.


  1. Avoid hard rules

It can often seem like a good idea to set hard rules like ‘no devices after 5pm’ but when there are unintended slip ups, this can lead to the rules being forgotten altogether. When parenting, routines are key but when it comes to device time, which is a relatively new phenomenon in parenting, it’s best to play it by ear and find what’s right for your family.

  1. Don’t use the work excuse

If your child is begging you to pay attention or put your phone down, don’t use the ‘mummy/daddy is doing some important work’ excuse. Once you get home for the day or close the laptop, all work should stop, which means no replying to work emails or taking calls from colleagues. This can be harder if you run your own business, but it’s still up to you to create that work/life divide. Although kids should know the value of working hard, they should never be made to feel like they are less important than a work email from your boss. When this happens, your children will be much more likely to feel shunned, frustrated and behave badly as a result.

How do you manage ‘technoference’ at home? Let us know using the hashtag #MyIrishLife

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Author: Irish Life

Irish Life is one of Ireland’s leading financial services companies with over 1 million customers. For over 75 years, we’ve been helping people in Ireland look after their life insurance, pension and investment needs.

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