The first iPhone debuted in 2007. Since that time, personal devices have become mainstream. While it probably didn’t take us long to learn how to use a smartphone, it’s taking us some time to learn how to use it wisely.

What have we learned in a decade?

As a parent who started out without a smartphone and is now parenting with one, I’ve witnessed this significant change firsthand. While I love the convenience of having this device at my beck and call, I admit, it was much easier to focus on my kids when there were no texts buzzing at me during the day or a social media account calling to me.

As I’ve been researching how my relationship with technology might affect my relationship with my kids, I came across an interesting term: technoference. *

Just like interference in a game of football, when the quarterback throws a pass and the ball is blocked by the opposing team, technoference is a block or interruption between two people.

“Technoference is defined as everyday interruptions in face-to-face interactions because of technology devices. It’s something that almost all of us encounter on a daily basis.” (Springer.com. Digital Devices During Family Time Could Exacerbate Bad Behavior, Pediatric Research)

The article reads:

“Parents who spend a lot of time on their phones or watching television during family activities such as meals, playtime, and bedtime could influence their long-term relationships with their children. This is according to Brandon T. McDaniel of Illinois State University and Jenny S. Radesky of the University of Michigan Medical School, both in the US, who say so called “technoference” can lead children to show more frustration, hyperactivity, whining, sulking or tantrums.”

I don’t think any of us are surprised to hear this. We know that our kids need our attention and love and they’d rather not have to compete with our devices.

How often do devices interrupt your conversations or interactions with your kids or spouse?

I realize I’ve made a choice to carry a personal device because of the benefits. The trick is making sure I use the phone as a tool and not as an escape.

The article continues, “Recent studies estimate that parents use television, computers, tablets and smartphones for nine hours per day on average. A third of this time is spent on smartphones, which due to their portability are often used during family activities such as meals, playtime, and bedtime – all important times involved in shaping a child’s social-emotional wellbeing. When parents are on their devices research shows that they have fewer conversations with their children and are more hostile when their offspring try to get their attention.”

So, if you are like me, and you want to prioritize meaningful conversations and interactions with your kids, but you’re not ready to give up your device, what do you do?

Here are a few ways we try to minimize technoference:

  • Leave cell phones at a charging station in the kitchen when we are home rather than in our pockets.
  • Making sure we set aside screen-free times and places:
    • 30-60 minute increments each day such as meal times, right after school, or when we’re in the car.
    • One day each week where we spend hours away away from devices just resting or connecting as a family. For us this day is Sunday.
    • Weeks each year where we spend time together and rarely check our devices. This is usually on family vacations when we are busy enjoying the outdoors or doing activities as a family or with extended family.
  • Plan for daily moments of connection. This can be one on one or as a family. This looks different everyday in our family and they are don’t take long! A few examples are a quick game of Uno, jumping on the trampoline together, preparing a meal together, helping a child with homework, a bike ride, grocery shopping, reading a book aloud to the whole family, folding laundry, etc. Really it’s just doing the everyday stuff, but doing it together. If we are so busy working and playing together there is naturally less time to be distracted by screens.

What do you do to avoid technoference in your family? We’d love to know!

*Reference: McDaniel, B.T.  Radesky, J.S. (2018). Technoference: Longitudinal Associations between Parent Technology Use, Parenting Stress, and Child Behavior Problems, Pediatric Research DOI: 10.1038/s41390-018-0052-6