Warning bells are always sounding about children and screen time. Studies show screen time negatively impacts the way the brain works, shortens attention spans, contributes to loneliness, depression and anxiety, and lowers academic success in children.
However, while we might heed those warnings and limit our kids’ use of screens according to the AAP recommendations, the truth is that parental use of screens also has a dramatic impact on children’s development. Here at Bay Street Pediatrics, we recognize adult device use profoundly and negatively impacts our children—at any age, from infancy to adolescence—in a wide variety of ways. We are here to explain and offer ways to help.
Research into the effects of digital device use on parent-child relationships initially examined the interactions and experiences that are lost when parents are distracted or occupied with their phones. Experts found that increased adult screen time created more “absent presence” or “technoference” moments, when parental attention drops sharply. Researchers proved that parental device use results in fewer parent-child interactions and less parent-child bonding, resulting in fragile relationships in the future.
When a parent is deeply absorbed in their device and their child breaks through that concentration, that subsequent interaction is of much lower quality than interactions that happen when a screen is not involved. Studies show that parents are less likely to respond meaningfully when interrupted during screen use and children are more likely to perceive parental responses as hostile. Children quickly learn that interrupting mom or dad when they’re using a screen brings a very negative reaction, so kids stop interacting with parents when they are using a screen.
Fewer and lower-quality parent-child interactions can impact a child’s development in a variety of ways. Research determines that parental screen time actually interrupts the development of “joint attention,” the ability to recognize when someone is looking at something and then to also pay attention to it. This affects your child’s ability to be able to enjoy reading a book or play a game with you and other people. Joint attention is vital to building a strong, meaningful, long term child-parent bond. It will also affect other trusting relationships as your child grows as joint attention plays a role in socialization throughout your child’s life. Undeveloped joint attention skills will handicap your child’s ability to make friends and form healthy relationship with other people and to excel academically. Research shows infants experience psychological stress from a parent’s inattention due to technoference.
Moreover, chronic absent presence and sustained inattention leads to behavioral problems in children of all ages. When children struggle to get their parent’s attention, and the response is poor, negative or completely lacking and the child interprets the response as both inadequate and hostile, the quality of parent-child interactions decrease dramatically. This creates a cycle of inattention harming the child’s self-esteem and weakening the parent-child relationship.
At Bay Street, we know that parents sometimes need a break, and our phones can offer a quick and easy way to take that break. They can also be used to research how to improve parenting skills, just like you are doing right now!
It’s vital to remember that algorithms are built specifically to hold our attention and to ignore anything else beyond that screen.
Take the steps to break your habits:
- Audit your screen time and usage habits to identify where and when you use it most. If you realize you’re using your screen most when your child is with you – even when you’re present but not actively involved, such as during a sports practice, you’re missing moments and interactions, even if it’s just a round of applause when your child scores a goal.
- Create “device-free” times for the entire family.
- Set a timer to stop those algorithms from holding your attention.
- When you do have to respond to an urgent situation on your phone, finish cleanly, refresh for a moment, and remember to respond intentionally to your child.
The good news is that every good digital device choice we parents make is doubly good for our children. Less screen time for everyone creates more opportunity for meaningful interactions and attention and sets a better example for our kids’ own screen time.
Avoid using devices and screens as coping mechanisms for your children. When they are bored, stressed or anxious, interact and engage fully with them, parent to child, to create and build a powerful bond.
Bay Street Pediatrics kindly reminds you to stow away your devices while in our offices. We enjoy seeing your family and require your full attention during appointments; this sets a great example for your child as they learn to interact with us as well.
Do you have questions about your child’s screen time – and your own? Message Bay Street Pediatrics through your portal. We are always happy to help!