Screen Time May Not Be to Blame for Negative Impact on Parent-Child Interactions

little girl playing with toys while dad checks phone Credit: Cavan / Adobe Stock
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If a parent is distracted by their iPhone or another digital device, is this worse for parent-child relationships than a parent being distracted in general by a non-digital distraction? New research suggests the near-ubiquitous messaging that too much screen time is the culprit for deteriorating interfamily relationships may not be as true as many thought.

Professor Nevena Dimitrova, a researcher at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland, and his team, recently published a study in Frontiers in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with results that some might find surprising. According to Prof Dimitrova, “…when parents are distracted, the quality and quantity of parent-child interaction is impaired compared to when parents are not being distracted…regardless of if that distraction came from a digital or a non-digital activity.” 

According to this study, it makes no difference to a child if a parent is distracted by a digital device, referred to as “technoference,” or something else. Children want their parents fully attentive and engaged, and the source of the distraction is less impactful than simply being distracted.

These findings are contrary to public opinion that screen use by both children and parents is generally harmful. Perhaps even more interesting is that the study acknowledges screen use by children isn’t harmful per se.

Research does not support the thesis that screen use by or in the presence of children is exclusively bad. For example, positive effects of screens on child psychological development have been shown in previous research.Effects of digital and non-digital parental distraction on parent-child interaction and communication

It might not come as a shock to parents that uninterrupted interaction with children is best. However, the researchers were admittedly surprised themselves. While one study alone isn’t irrefutable, it might come as some relief to those parents who find themselves mainly distracted by their phones. For many parents, it’s hard to always put work aside and be completely present with our children. What’s the ultimate takeaway? Less screen time by both parents and kids isn’t a panacea for healthier family relationships.

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