Dear Staff, Parents and Friends of the College,
Parents who spend a lot of time on their devices, phones or watching television during family activities such as meals, playtime, and bedtime are likely to create long-term relationships barriers with their children. This is not my own assumption; it is common sense talk backed by researchers like Brandon T. McDaniel of Illinois State University and Jenny S. Radesky of the University of Michigan Medical School. This millennial form of parenting is so common that it is now referred to as ‘technoference’. The ignoring of children when parents should not be ignoring their needs can lead their children to show more frustration, hyperactivity, whining, sulking or tantrums. (Daniel, B.T., Radesky, J.S. Technoference: longitudinal associations between parent technology use, parenting stress, and child behaviour problems. Pediatr Res 84, 210–218 (2018).
The same research shows that parents are letting technology interfere with primal duties like looking after their children. If parents are connecting with their internet devices more than they are connecting with their children, is it any wonder their children suffer? A good ‘technoference’ litmus test for parent is to record how much screen time they spend each week outside of work hours as compared to how much time they spend with their children (and I don’t mean in front of the TV or Xbox!).
Another way to look at it is to measure how much screen time parents will allow of their children as opposed to family time together. Children are social beings too and like all social beings they need time to connect daily with their parents. These times of connection should include, the first 30 minutes after school, homework time (when they need supervision and help), meal time, family prayer time and the last 10 minutes of the evening before the children go to sleep. This last ten minutes is perhaps the most important. This is where night prayers can be said or at least a reminder to say then given, a paternal blessing can be imparted and for the younger ones a good night story read.
For the older ones, it’s the perfect moment to check they have no devices in their bedroom and that all devices are safely in the care of the parents, not left lying around the kitchen table for a son or daughter to retrieve them during the night after mum or dad go to bed.
Here are three tips for parents from a child and family psychologist Michael Hawton to help them turn off their devices (tv, phone, computer) and interact more freely with their children:
1. Your phone is a resource – and just that. We have a saying in our teenage parenting course; the internet is an invited guest – not an assumed resident! This basically means that you should control your technology, having it in or out of your life, at your discretion.
2. It is about priorities and all those tiny day- to-day interactions that go into forming a healthy relationship with your teenager. If we’re letting our need for devices have ascendancy over relationships, this is not in their best interest.
3. How do you want your teenager to remember you? Is it as a rude, cranky person who was always on their phone? Or as a warm and available person and one of life’s first teachers?
On the flip side, parents also need to use devices when their kids are home, mainly for work, but also for play and relaxation. How can parents set some boundaries for their children to also respect this need and still know they are loved?
I think parents have the right to not be interrupted. An example may they’re working or doing something important, a way to get the kids into the habit of not interrupting you, you may tell them that unless it’s some kind of emergency they should not interrupt you for a few hours. At a practical level, it’s about preparation and it’s about set-up.
The same goes with spending time with your teenagers. You could timetable periods to be with your kids, when they’re NOT to be on their devices. Remember, the phone is a resource you can choose to use or not use. With calmer, happier children as a result of that choice, it makes sense to choose wisely.
Incidentally, Michael Hawton is founder of ‘Parentshop’, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents. You can find more information, including his books and self-paced online parenting courses at https://www.parentshop.com.au/parent-courses/
Sincerely yours in the Two Hearts,
Father Andrew Cranshaw