Want your children to behave? Put down your phone

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

We've been told over and over again that letting our kids use devices too much is bad, but now parents are being told to stay away from screens too.

A study has found that parents who watch too much television or spend hours on their devices during family time are contributing to their kid's bad behaviour.

Technoference, as it's been termed, is when parents over-use their electronic gadgets, rather than interact with their children. This, in turn, leads to their kids displaying bad "externalised behaviour", such as sulking, tantrums and hyperactivity, in a bid to get their parent's attention.

Social media expert Arna van Goch agrees that parents using too much technology negatively impacts on their children's behaviour.

"Raising children means being present in the moment, connecting with them on a deeper level," she said.

"It doesn't mean you always have to have serious conversations with kids, but going through experiences together is more important."

Parents who spend too much time on their devices give a message to their children that they are less important to them than their phone, computer or television.

She suggests getting a "tech box" at home that everyone has to put their devices into at designated family times, even the adults.

"Children will know, by you putting your devices away, that it is their time. That they now have your full attention - and give it to them," she said.


"It's so important for them to understand that they are valued and loved (and there is also a time and place for work, or learning to play alone).

"By giving them attention by ways of doing an activity (even cooking together is great for a child's cognitive growth and learning to take on responsibility), they learn how prioritisation works, too."  

As part of the study, researchers from the Illinois State University and the University of Michigan examined the impact digital devices had on parenting and child behaviour.

The team examined data from 172 two-parent families, with children aged five and under, and assessed their technology usage, their children's screen time, their level of stress, how often their kids interrupted their screen time and rated their children's behaviour.

They found that parents with children displaying externalised behaviour, such as whining and tantrums, made their parents more stressed and they used technology as a way to withdrawal. But by distancing themselves from their kid's behaviour, it in turn made their kid act out even more.

Psychologist and author Michael Hawton from Parentshop said it was a cycle of behaviour that will only get worse unless parents make a change.

"Kids want attention, because that is what they need," Mr Hawton said.

"The pattern which gets repeated is that the child seeks their parent's attention, the parent fobs them off, the child ups the ante and then the parent feels annoyed and may lash out.

"This is a cycle that can only be broken by one party though – the parent."

It's up to parents to assess how much they really need to use their devices.

"If we're letting our need for devices have ascendancy over relationships, not only is this not in our child's best interest, but it is basically rude," he said. 

"A good question parents may want to ask themselves is how do I want my child to remember me? As a rude, cranky person who was always on their phone… or do they want their child to remember them as a warm and available person and one of life's first teachers."

He suggested parents set some clear boundaries around their own technology usage to ensure they spend quality, undistracted time with their kids.

"Parents could timetable periods to be with their kids, when they're not on their devices," he said.

"Just make a rule that there are no phones at bed time, bath and play times. Frisbee time is phoneless. Walking the dog is phoneless. Grocery shopping is phoneless.

"Remember, the phone is a resource you can either use or not use."