Source: Families First
A few months ago, my family took on a goliath of a challenge—no screens after dinner for a month. Normally, we’d watch a show, play Wordle, text, scroll TikTok, and play Minecraft (yes, all at the same time). Our living room was saturated with technology, so we decided to disconnect to keep technoference at bay.
Technoference is a fancy word for technology interfering with relationships and communication. Parents like to point fingers at kids, but researchers and scholars are beginning to recognize the negative effects parental use of digital devices can have on parent-child relationships. Yep. We’re the culprits. Instead of sitting back and letting technology hurt our families, let’s do these 3 things to fight back against technoference.
1. Notice when you’re “absent present.”
The National Library of Medicine defines “absent presence” as the act of being physically present but having your mind elsewhere because of technology. A clear example: My son scored the first two points in his season-ending basketball game, and I missed it because I was texting with a friend.
It takes a lot of discipline not to pick up your phone when you’re bored or when you think your kids won’t notice. But mealtimes and play are moments our kids need to see that we care, and looking away sends the opposite message. Being present is what makes it possible for us to notice, listen, and show our kids they matter.
Try this: Turn your phone off instead of just setting it down when you’re with your family. The act of having to power it up is a second hoop you’d have to jump through, and it’ll force you to be more mindful.
2. Identify techno-stressors.
What about your digital device brings you stress? Is it texting with your mother-in-law? Getting alerts from coworkers after hours? Reading the news? Another way technoference negatively affects parent-child relationships is when we allow devices to open a door to stress when that stress wouldn’t otherwise have access to us. Our kids sense it, and it adds tension to our homes.
Try this: Some stressors are avoidable, but even the ones that are not can usually be avoided during the peak hours your kids need you. If it’s homework time and you know your kids need a patient, calm version of you, silence your work notifications. Wait to check the news until the kids are outside playing.
3. Understand the power of the interruption (for good and bad).
In a 2017 experiment, infant language development expert Kathy Hirsh-Pasek had two groups of parents try to teach their 2-year-olds words. The parents in one group were interrupted by a phone call while teaching, and the parents in the other group were not. The toddlers in the interrupted group didn’t learn the words, while the ones whose parents were not interrupted did. Disruptions to the flow of communication between parents and kids have detrimental effects.
On the other hand, what do you do when your kids interrupt you while you’re looking at a screen? Sometimes you have to ask them to wait a moment, but most of the time, their bids for attention are a chance to send a clear message. By putting the device down, you’re telling them they’re more important than whatever you’re looking at. Don’t make your kids wonder if you value your phone more than them.
Try this: Next time you’re watching a reel on Instagram and your daughter says, “Hey, Mom!” instead of replying with a half-attentive “hmm?” or an annoyed “I’m kind of in the middle of something,” set your phone down, screen side-down, turn your body to her, and say, “What’s up? You have my attention.”
How do you fight technoference in your family?