Tips to reduce technoference in family time

Is your son typing messages while you are trying to have a conversation with him?

Are you telling him to get his homework done as you scroll through the latest Facebook newsfeed?

With parents complaining their teens are spending too much time on their phones and teens saying mum and dad are “just as bad” – what can parents do to reduce the “technoference” in family life and find that healthy balance between screen time and real time?

University of Calgary and Waterloo researchers may have some answers. In the article Technoference: a habit parents should ditch in 2019, the research team noted parents spend about 3.5 hours per day using internet-connected devices, whereas teens were averaging not much less – 2.5 hours per day.

With a staggering 47 per cent of Canadian families also admitting to using technological devices at the dinner table, it seems parents and teens could use some tips to manage screen time and make time for family members without the distraction of these devices within reach.

Researchers suggested;

  1. Make a family device plan

Device plans can help your family decide how and how often media will be used, as well as when and where it will be used. As a family, you can come up with solutions or alternatives for when someone feels like pulling out their device (e.g., pull out a favourite board game or go play soccer instead).

  1. Be a ‘media mentor’

Kids are learning about media from those around them, especially from parents. Parents should model healthy device habits, which includes using devices in moderation, and not letting them interfere with family time, sleep or being active.

  1. Have a device basket

When the family convenes together at the end of the work and school day, drop your devices into a designated device basket. If possible, set them to “do not disturb” as well.

  1. Take control of your phone

Your phone is engineered to capture your attention. That’s why icons are colourful and notification alerts are in red! The Center for Human Technology offers many options to avoid falling into the trap of being drawn in by your device. These include, turning off social media and email notifications, putting your phone on grey scale and keeping your home screen to essential apps only.

  1. Resist the desire to document

Capturing special moments is important, but they shouldn’t supersede the moments themselves. Try to be present and prioritise sharing moments with your child rather than your social media followers.

  1. Monitor your device habits

Just like a Fitbit counts our steps, a device tracks our usage. Activate the screen time function on your phone and monitor your usage. Make a goal to cut your device usage by 10-25 per cent and monitor your progress.

  1. Understand your media habits

Understand the science behind why technology can be so addictive. For some parents, using devices may be an escape from their child’s difficult behaviours or a way to relieve some stress. Unfortunately, using devices as a temporary stress reliever can lead to children acting out more to regain their parent’s attention. As much as possible, try to find other ways of relieving stress, such as exercise, deep breathing or taking the kids to the park.

Technology and devices can be used thoughtfully and appropriately. Like everything else, they need to be used in moderation and they should not replace important activities such as family time, sleep, playing outside, exercise and face-to-face interactions and communications.