Since the first iPhone debuted in 2007, personal devices have become mainstream. And while it didn’t take most of us long to learn how to use a smartphone, it seems like it’s taking us some time to learn how to use them wisely.

What have we learned in a decade?

As a parent who started without a smartphone and is now parenting with one, I’ve witnessed this significant change firsthand. While I love the convenience of having one device with so many functions, I admit, it was much easier to focus on my kids when there weren’t notifications buzzing throughout 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 an 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. Or as defined in Pediatric Research, “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”).

It’s easy to rationalize our behavior in our heads. We think, “But I’m doing something really important right now. It can’t wait.” When in reality, it usually can.

Then we spend time worrying about not meeting our kids’ needs; when they are often telling us exactly what they need right to our face. We just don’t always recognize it or see it for what it is because we are too distracted.

According to the study, if parents spend considerable amounts of time on their phones during meal time, family activities, and bedtime, it will affect their long-term relationships with their kids. In the short-term, it’s likely that children will be more frustrated, hyperactive, whiny, or throw tantrums when they aren’t getting the face-to-face interaction they need from their parents.

I don’t think any of us are surprised to hear this. We know that our kids need our attention and love—and that 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 same article on technoference explains: “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:

  • Distance yourself from your phone. When we are home, we leave our cell phones at a charging station in the kitchen rather than in our pockets. This helps me avoid turning to my phone in a moment of boredom or responding to every notification.

  • Set aside screen-free times and places:
    • During daily routines such as meal times, right after school, or when we’re in the car.
    • One day each week we spend hours away from devices just resting or connecting as a family. For us, this day is Sunday.
    • Weeks each year when 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, either one-on-one or as a family. 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 busy working and playing together, there is naturally less time to be distracted by screens.

How we manage our personal devices as parents not only affects our family culture now, but it will also directly influence the way our children use their own devices in the future. Although I am still learning how to manage my own device, I’ve noticed that the more I create time and space away from my phone, the better connections I’m able to have with my family.

QUESTION: What do you do to avoid technoference in your family?

CHALLENGE: Choose one of the bulleted suggestions above and implement it in your home this week.

*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