Weekend Doctor: The Interference of Technology

Caitlin Tully
Family Safety and Therapy Center
Nationwide Children’s Hospital*

Balancing the demands of caregiving and other life responsibilities can be a challenge for many parents. Many things demand our attention, and it’s easy to get distracted by phone reminders or forget the time to browse social media. During the pandemic, many parents’ lives have become more digital. This can have an impact on the health of the family.

“Technoference” is a term coined by researcher Brandon McDaniel, which is defined as the daily interruption of our quality time together due to technology. Parents who are digitally distracted have less interaction with their children, and when parents are distracted, children may increase connection-seeking behaviors. Children who compete with digital devices for their parents’ attention are more likely to have behavioral problems, including whining, irritability or tantrums. The best thing a parent can do to disrupt “technical reasoning” is to develop skills for digital happiness.

Digital health refers to the impact of technology and digital services on someone’s health, including emotional, social and physical health. It includes the devices or app-based tools we use to manage our online time, the actions we decide to perform on the Internet, and the emotional tools we use to process our online experience.

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

I tend to forget the time when I’m playing with my phone.

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

I would stay on my phone instead of going to bed before bed.

If these statements apply to you frequently, there are resources and supports that can provide more balance in your life.

Digital Wellbeing and Screen Time resources are available for Android and iPhone devices. Many social media platforms offer app-based resources, including screen time management, restrictions, and media literacy tools, such as TikTok’s digital wellbeing tool. This is especially useful for users who often forget the time on their device.

Common Sense Media provides articles and guidance for adults who want to keep their families safe and work online, including a family toolkit developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children need “media guidance” from adults. Before implementing digital strategies for teens, adults must consider their own relationship with technology and stress.

Eliminating all screens in our lives is not realistic, especially for families with children of different ages. It’s most helpful to consider the quality of digital media, how it fits into your family’s lifestyle, and how your children interact with it. Device-free dinners can create screen-free moments of connection for busy families.

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

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

*The content of this article was provided by pediatric experts on the 700 Kids® blog nationwide through a partnership between Blanchard Valley Health System and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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