For all of its benefits, technology still has its downside. Study after study has been released documenting the ill effects tech use can have on your mental health, your behavior, and your relationships. But one area, in particular, has captured scientists' attention for at least a decade: the impact technology has on children — or, more so, how a parent's phone use affects their kids. Turns out, it's not so great: new research suggests your smartphone addiction may be why your kid acts out, giving parents another thing to worry about.
A recent study published in the journal Pediatric Research found that "technoference" — the term for excessive tech use that interrupts parent-child interactions — can cause poor behavior in kids, according to The Daily Mail. In particular, researchers analyzed online survey data from more than 170 families with children 5 years old or younger and learned that technoference can cause kids to throw a tantrum, become hyperactive, whine, or sulk, The Daily Mail reported.
The researchers also discovered that, in almost all cases, one or more electronic device — be it a smartphone, tablet, or computer — had interrupted interactions between parents and their kids, the findings showed. Not only that, but the study also found that parents who had to cope with problematic child behavior often turned to technology "as a refuge."
Co-lead researcher Dr. Jenny Radesky, of the University of Michigan Medical School, said that children can become frustrated by parents who play with their smartphones during family activities, such as meals, playtime, and bedtime, according to The Daily Mail. Over time, their response is "to act out" rather than internalize that stress, she continued.
Radesky's colleague, Dr. Brandon McDaniel, of Illinois State University, expanded on this observation, adding, according to The Daily Mail:
In other words, parents who have children with more externalizing problems become more stressed, which may lead to their greater withdrawal with technology, which in turn may contribute to more [children] externalizing problems.
This is not the first time Radesky has studied this subject. She published an anthropological study in Pediatrics in 2014 that came to the same conclusion: Children are more likely to act out for attention if their parents are sucked into their mobile devices.
Other researchers have derived similar results regarding a parent's cell phone use. A 2016 Developmental Science study, for example, found that infants and toddlers expressed more distress when their mothers were on their phones. In another study, published by AVG Technologies in 2015, more 30 percent of adolescents and teenagers surveyed reported feeling "unimportant" when their parents were absorbed in their smartphones during family time.
What's more, research published in Translational Psychiatry two years ago found that distracted parents may have a harmful impact on a child's development, according to TIME. Specifically, parents sucked into technology or have their attention pulled in other ways may harm their kid's ability to process pressure, the animal study found.
On the surface, the solution would seem to be that parents just need to put down their cell phones. But it's not that easy: After all, Common Sense Media found that parents devote more than nine hours a day, on average, to technology, be it playing video games or scrolling through their Facebook feed aimlessly. It's hard to break a habit you spend so much time on.
Instead, it's a matter of being mindful of your actions, and digging into why you feel you need technology in the first place. As clinical psychologist Dr. Shaun Wehle told Moneyish:
Try to understand why you’re escaping into technology; what’s overwhelming? Why can’t you tolerate it? Don’t just habitually play Candy Crush when you’re stressed.
He continued, according to Moneyish:
Make eye contact [with your child] and tune in to where they’re at emotionally. Recognize that they’re in an agitated state and respond accordingly.
As a parent with a tech dependency, I know it will be difficult to break away from my screen — especially during my down days. But for the sake of my son, it's important to try.