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Weekend Doctor: Interruptions by technology

By Caitlin Tully
The Center for Family Safety and Healing
Nationwide Children’s Hospital*

Balancing the demands of caregiving with other life responsibilities is challenging for many parents. Many things need our attention, and we can be easily distracted by a phone alert or lose track of time scrolling through social media. Many parents’ lives have become even more digitally connected during the pandemic. This can have an impact on the health of families.   

“Technoference,” a term created by researcher Brandon McDaniel, is defined as the everyday interruptions in our quality time together due to technology. Digitally distracted parents interact less with their children and children are likely to increase connection-seeking behaviors when a parent is distracted. Children competing with digital devices for parental attention are at greater risk for behavior problems, including whining, restlessness or temper tantrums. The best thing that parents can do to disrupt “technoference” is to build skills for digital well-being. 

Digital well-being refers to the impact of technology and digital services on someone’s health, including emotional, social and physical wellness. It includes the device or app-based tools that we use to manage time spent online, behaviors we decide to engage in on the Internet and emotional tools we use to handle our experience online. 

The first step to digital well-being is understanding how you interact with technology. Here are a few statements to consider:

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

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

I’ll stay on my phone instead of going to sleep at my bedtime.

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

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

Common Sense Media offers articles and guidance for adults who want to keep their families safe and productive online, including a Family Toolkit developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children need “media mentorship” from adults. It’s important for adults to consider their own relationship with technology and stress before implementing digital strategies for youth. 

It’s unrealistic to eliminate all screens from our lives, especially for families with children of different ages. It is most helpful to consider the quality of digital media, how it fits into your family's lifestyle and how your kids 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 long-distance family and friends. However, social media can also negatively impact parents’ emotional health, through lack of sleep and negative comparison with other parents.

If you find yourself 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 to turn your phone off 30 minutes before bed and practice deep breathing. If you notice that you feel worse after scrolling through “perfect” family photos online, remind yourself that social media isn’t real life and you are doing your best. Digital well-being isn’t easy and you are not alone. 

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