How Technology Gets in the Way of Parenting

In This Article

If you are like most parents, you worry about what technology is doing to your kids. Are they on their phones too much? Are they sharing too much on social media? Do they know how to have a face-to-face conversation? In fact, research indicates just how addicted to technology kids truly are and how it is impacting them. For instance, this generation's technology use is increasing bullying, decreasing their ability to empathize, and robbing them of creativity. In fact, colleges and corporations are reporting that young people who have grown up in this tech-savvy world are lacking in emotional skills compared to kids a decade ago.

So, what is a parent to do? Many times, as parents we develop cell phone contracts, limit screen time, set timers, and take away technology as a form of discipline. But, what if the issue with technology, social media, and the Internet in our kids' lives has more to do with how much we parents allow our own technology use to interfere with our parenting? What if checking email and social media is robbing our kids of crucial interactions with us?

They want to have a conversation or ask us a tough question, but we are busy checking our phones, running through emails from work, or scrolling through social media. So, they see the device in our hands and either give up or go search the Internet for the answer instead. When this happens, we are missing out on crucial parenting opportunities.

How technology can affect parenting
 verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Why It Matters

According to a study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, parents' use of technology may not only be robbing families of learning opportunities, but it is also causing negative interactions as well as internal conflicts and tension in the home.

Not only are parents struggling to balance it all, but smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices are blurring the lines between the office and the home allowing parents to be "on call" for work at all hours. This turns into too little time spent interacting with kids, and too much time devoted to technology use.

It's Hard to Find Balance

In fact, the researchers from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott's Children's Hospital and Boston Medical Center who conducted the study discovered that parents are struggling to balance family time - and the desire to be present when at home - with technology-based expectations like responding to work and other demands. For instance, participants in the study consistently vocalized an internal struggle between work, technology, and family time.

You're Emotionally Disconnected

What's more, study participants reported that their emotional response to what they were reading on their mobile device also resulted in more frequent negative reactions with their family members, especially if the email or message they were reading was bad news or contained stressful information. Parents in the study also described more attention-seeking behaviors from their children when they were engrossed in using technology, which also resulted in them snapping at their kids.

In another part of the study, the researchers observed parents eating with their children in fast food restaurants. What they discovered is that there are fewer verbal and nonverbal reactions with children when mobile devices are being used.

It Becomes a Way to Escape

Meanwhile, other participants in the study defended their technology-use indicating that it allowed them to plug into the outside world and served as a vital reminder that there is life beyond parenting. Many parents also reported using technology as a way to alleviate the boredom and the mundaneness that can come with parenting. All in all, it is estimated that parents use mobile devices like smartphones, wearables, and tablets upwards of three hours a day or more.

While the researchers acknowledge that parents do not have to be available to their children 100 percent of the time and that a little time on their own creates independence in kids, they also noted that parents are overloaded and exhausted from being pulled in so many different directions. What's more, technology has transformed the way parents interact with their kids. Unlike traditional books, newspapers, or magazines, technology commands more of a parent's attention and requires a greater emotional investment. This significant emotional investment means there is less of you available to invest in your kids.

Taking Control of Your Technology Use

Researchers offer some tips on taking control of your technology use. These include setting family boundaries, tracking your mobile use, and identifying your top device stressors.

Ask the Right Questions

If you truly want to take control of your technology use, you have to ask yourself the tough questions. For instance, how often do you pull out your smartphone during dinner to check your email or respond to a text? How much time do you spend loading photos and selfies to social media rather than truly experiencing what is taking place? Or, how much time do you spend documenting your kids' lives on social media rather than truly investing in your relationship with them/ Once you have taken a hard look at your own behavior, then you will know where you need to make changes.

Set boundaries

Create a plan for your technology use. For instance, you could establish certain spaces in your home or times of day when you are completely unplugged. The obvious choices are unplugging at the dinner table or breakfast table, or refraining from using your device while in your kids' rooms at bedtime. You also could establish certain rooms in your home as technology-free zones such as a reading room or family room.

Track Your Mobile Use

Consider getting an app like "Moment" or "Quality Time" that will track your mobile use. This information can be useful in determining where and when you are spending too much time. Consequently, if 90 percent of your time is spent on social media or going through work emails, you can look for ways to reduce your technology use. You also could create a filter or block on your device to avoid the temptation to use technology during certain times at home, such as when the kids get home from school, when you get home from work, or at bedtime.

Identify Stressors

One of the key issues parents report is that sometimes interacting with their mobile device leads them to be short with their kids or snap at them. Think about when this happens in your life. If you get stressed reading work emails or you need absolute silence when working on a project for work, schedule times to do these things when you know your kids are occupied with sports or another activity. This way, you have the space and time you need to complete your tasks rather than taking away time from your kids or risk snapping at them when they interrupt you with a question.

Be a Good Role Model

When it comes to technology use, it's important to remember your kids are watching you. In fact, some informal studies indicate that a high percentage of kids indicate that they would like for their parents to turn off their technology.

Help Kids Discover the Benefit of Quiet

Too many times, technology is always running. The iPad is playing videos or the computer has a YouTube video on it. But, research has shown that quiet time without the interference of technology is crucial to brain development. Think about your own situation. How many times have you been folding laundry or taking a shower and come up with a great idea for a project at work? It is during these quiet times that are brains are allowed to be most creative. Teach your kids the importance of quiet by modeling it yourself. Turn off your device and walk the dog. Resist turning on the television while you are folding laundry. If your kids see you do these things, they are more likely to model your behavior.

Use "Captured" Time to Talk

Riding in the car, sitting at the dinner table, gathering at a restaurant - those times all represent "captured" time with your kids. Consequently, you want to take advantage of that time and put the devices away. For instance, kids are more agreeable to talk with you when you are riding in the car. They do not have to make eye contact with you, especially if you are talking about a difficult or embarrassing topic. They can look out the window if they want. So, consider making short car rides to practices, to church, or to the grandparents' home technology-free. This way, you can take advantage of that time to talk. You would be surprised what you might discover while riding in the car.

Create a Technology Basket

Put a basket by the door where your family comes in and out and put your devices in that basket as soon as you get home. Ask your kids to do the same. The technology comes out of the basket when homework is done, dinner is finished, and chores are complete - whatever guidelines you want to establish. This way, you have limited distractions during crucial communication time for both you and the kids.

Provide Other Options

Too many times, parents rely on technology to fill the void during the day not only for themselves but for their kids as well. One idea for reducing technology use for the entire family is to provide other options in the home. For instance, put a few board games or a deck of cards on the table. Set a ball or frisbee by the door. Lay out Mad Libs or word search books on the coffee table. If these things are in full view, kids (and parents) are more likely to take advantage of them rather than turning to technology for entertainment.

Make Media Viewing a Family Event

Watch things together with your kids and then talk about them afterward. For instance, if your kids like watching a particular movie or YouTuber, then watch with them. Then have a conversation afterward. Consider how these things intersect with your family values. Not only are you doing something with your kids, but you also are teaching them how to use technology in a way that requires them to think about what they are watching rather than just simply consuming it.

Put Your Technology Down

Yes, it is as simple as that. If your kids see you limiting your technology use or walking away for your screen to do something else, they will likely emulate these actions in their own lives. Kids learn by example more than anything else. And, if you actively set limits on your own technology use (including not using your phone while driving) then they are likely to do the same.

Be Intentional

In other words, decide what you want your family to look like. Then, based on this picture, set goals and make a plan. There is no perfect answer or a specific line to draw when it comes to technology and parenting. Consequently, you have to decide what is right for you and your family.

Pay attention to how often your family is using technology and if you do not like what you see, make changes, starting with your own behavior. You cannot expect your kids to limit their technology if you are not doing the same thing.

A Word From Verywell

Technology has transformed the way parents interact with their children. From having kids and teens tethered to their devices and being in constant contact with parents, to splitting attention between their kids and their mobile devices, parenting does not look the same as it did a decade ago. Some of these changes are good things, like being able to text your kids when they are out.

But, some of these changes are impacting the way parents communicate with their kids in a negative. Still, it is manageable. With a little effort and a commitment to being fully present, parents can easily make technology work for them rather than against them.

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  • Jenny S. Radesky, Caroline Kistin, Staci Eisenberg, Jamie Gross, Gabrielle Block, Barry Zuckerman, Michael Silverstein. "Parent Perspectives on Their Mobile Technology Use," Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 2016. 1 DOI:  10.1097/DBP.0000000000000357