“Technoference”, or how screen time affects your parenting.

[By Penny Bounia-Mastrogianni]

Spoiler Alert: Not positively.

Children’s screen time has been extensively researched during the previous two decades, and it has often been implicated in many undesirable psychological and educational outcomes. For a change, I decided to write some thoughts and relevant findings focusing on the effects that smartphones’ usage – and technology in a wider sense – has on parental behaviour instead. Welcome to my short guilt trip. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

The behaviour I am discussing here has been termed “technoference”. It was defined by researchers McDaniel and Coyne [1] as everyday interruptions in interpersonal interactions or time spent together that occur due to digital and mobile technology devices. It is a behaviour acknowledged by parents and noticed by their children. When asked in a recent survey [2] about their device use, half of all parents agreed that it was too frequent (52 percent), and many also worried about how this looked to the younger generation. Over 50 percent of kids report that their parents check their phones too much, and 36 percent say their parents get distracted by their phones during conversations. But what are the exact effects on children by these interruptions?

Researchers have been observing parents interacting with their children in natural environments [3] and reported more externalising behaviours (e.g. tantrums, emotional reactivity) and internalising behaviours (e.g. anxiety, withdrawal) in families where parents checked their smartphones more often. Specifically, a recent study [4] showed that younger children (aged less than 9 months) responded with more escape behaviours, while older ones showed more negative affect when their mothers shifted their attention to a device. These emotional reactions from children seem to be closely related with the emotional and conversational misattunement, caused by the disruption of the normal communicative flow when attention is suddenly shifted away from the child. Especially for children, this communicative resonance and joint attention with their parents is essential for learning and for the formation of secure attachment [5]. However, the relationship between parents’ and children’s behaviour is not uni-directional: it might be possible that parents turn to smartphones when they need a break from difficult parenting situations [1]. And this need is completely normal.

The truth is, we are all prone to technology distractions: this is basically what most apps and social media are based on when designed nowadays! In order to spend some more time tuned in with our children, we can start understanding our media habits, choosing alternative ways to unload stress and practising our time off more actively.

Let’s be present with our young ones now!



[1] McDaniel, B. T., & Radesky, J. S. (2018). Technoference: Longitudinal associations between parent technology use, parenting stress, and child behavior problems. Pediatric Research84(2), 210-218.

[2] https://now.avg.com/digital-diaries-kids-competing-with-mobile-phones-for-parents-attention

[3] McDaniel, B. T., & Radesky, J. S. (2018). Technoference: Parent distraction with technology and associations with child behavior problems. Child development89(1), 100-109.

[4] Stockdale, L. A., Porter, C. L., Coyne, S. M., Essig, L. W., Booth, M., Keenan‐Kroff, S., & Schvaneveldt, E. (2020). Infants’ response to a mobile phone modified still‐face paradigm: Links to maternal behaviors and beliefs regarding technoference. Infancy25(5), 571-592.

[5] Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (2000). Joint attention, cultural learning, and language acquisition: Implications for children with autism. In A. M. Wetherby & B. M. Prizant (Eds.), Communication and language intervention series; Vol. 9. Autism spectrum disorders: A transactional developmental perspective (p. 31–54). Paul H Brookes Publishing.