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  • Writer's pictureDina

Is Your Smartphone Breaking Your Child’s Heart?

We’ve all heard about how teenagers are addicted to their smartphones. In fact, a whopping majority of U.S. parents are worried about their children's overuse of screen-time. The Pew Research Center’s recent research study indicates that most (61%) are looking for guidance from medical professionals about this very issue.

60% of Teens Say Phones Are A Major Problem for...Teens

Study after study proclaims the dangers of children and electronics, to the point that teens themselves admit they are on their phones TOO MUCH, as found by the Pew Research Center:

As they look at their own lives and those of their peers, most teens see things that worry them. Roughly nine-in-ten teens view spending too much time online as a problem facing people their age, including 60% who say it is a major problem (emphasis in the original).

YouTube is Enjoyable, Everyday

YouTube, part of the Alphabet family of companies, is a shining star of the Internet, as Common Sense Media found (but this may be to the detriment of IQ everywhere):

Since 2015, the percentage of young people who say they watch online videos "every day" has doubled, to 56% from 24% among 8- to 12-year-olds, and to 69% from 34% among 13- to 18-year-olds. For tweens, it is the media activity they enjoy the most, with 67% saying they enjoy it "a lot," up from 46% in 2015, when it ranked fifth in enjoyment. Time spent watching online videos also increased from 25 to 56 minutes a day among tweens, and from 35 to 59 minutes a day among teens on average.

....because it could also a major contributing factor to encouraging passivity:

The majority of young people devote very little time to creating their own content (just 2% of screen use among tweens and 3% among teens). Screen media use continues to be dominated by watching TV and videos, playing games, and using social media; use of digital devices for making art, creating music, coding, or writing remains minimal.

How Do Parents Use Smartphones?

But, oh, what about their parents!?!?! You, yes YOU. Are you holding your smartphone right now? Well, maybe you are ruining your family time because you are addicted!!! Are you making your kids jealous of your smartphone? Are they lonely without you? Sometimes, children see the phones as a source of competition for a parent’s attention.

Some parents confess to having their own smartphone addictions, as found by the Pew Research Center:

At the same time, some parents of teens admit they also struggle with the allure of screens: 36% say they themselves spend too much time on their cellphone. And 51% of teens say they often or sometimes find their parent or caregiver to be distracted by their own cellphone when they are trying to have a conversation with them.

Smartphones Cause Family Fights?

Do you check your phone DURING family time? Ahem, ahem, are you checking the stock market when your kids are talking about their favorite song, latest quiz, sports match, etc.??? Because that is a cardinal sin!!! You might even be causing your children to misbehave!

Young children whose parents interrupt family time by pulling out their smartphones or tablets appear more prone to misbehaviors, such as whining, sulking and tantrums, the research revealed.

Or, your neglect may be responsible for kids’ getting more injuries:

In addition, some evidence suggests smartphone use may be to blame for a 10 percent uptick in unintentional childhood injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)...

According to CDC data, unintentional injuries to children under age 5 rose 10 percent between 2007 and 2012, after falling for much of the prior decade. Interestingly, Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, and today, nearly two-thirds of Americans are smartphone owners, according to the Pew Research Center.

One U.K. second grader’s paper went viral when she explained why she hated her mom’s phone. Are you that bad!?!?! Is your child’s broken heart going to lead to something like that!?!?!

Is Your Smartphone One More Child?

Clinical psychologist and researcher Catherine Steiner-Adair notes, "One of the many things that absolutely knocked my socks off...was the consistency with which children — whether they were 4 or 8 or 18 or 24 — talked about feeling exhausted and frustrated and sad or mad trying to get their parents' attention, competing with computer screens or iPhone screens or any kind of technology, much like in therapy you hear kids talk about sibling rivalry."

Guilty As Charged?

What kind of role model are you being for your children? Maybe you already feel super guilty! Guilt can be a useful emotion but the picture is not quite so clear. Before you throw your smartphone into your trash bin, consider if your phone use is “dependent” or “time-limited” in nature - because it makes a difference.

What is “Technoference”?

Technoference happens when technology becomes an obstacle between people, instead of a support:

Study author Brandon McDaniel coined the term "technoference" about five years ago when researching technology's intrusion into face-to-face interactions and relationships. His new findings on kids and parents reinforce established research focusing on technology's effects on child development.

"Do you like it when you feel snubbed by someone, when that person isn't validating or listening to you?" asked McDaniel. He's an assistant professor of human development and family science at Illinois State University.

Dependent vs. Time-Limited Use

Researchers classify use depending upon the levels of attention the parents give to the phones - immersion.

Rather, it may prove more fruitful to conceptualize parents’ use of devices in terms of degree of immersion (e.g., Radesky et al., 2016). Illustratively, parents’ responses to children’s behavior can be delayed if most of the interaction is spent scrolling on devices (i.e., divided engagement; Lemish et al., 2019), and phone checking and absorption in social networking sites (SNS) can consume parents’ attention without limits. This near‐constant checking of cell phones has been characterized as ‘dependence’ within certain scholarly spheres.

Being able to maintain eye contact and otherwise interact successfully with one’s children is key:

In contrast, less immersive uses such as phone calls and texting tend to be time‐limited and allow for maintenance of eye contact with children. These uses can simultaneously provide some freedom yet allow parents to quickly switch away from the phone when needed (Hiniker, Sobel, Suh, Sung, Lee, & Kientz, 2015; Oduor et al., 2016). Given simultaneous benefits of relational upkeep and stress relief (Radesky et al., 2016), such time‐limited use might have positive implications for parenting.

Smartphones Are Bad, err, Good for Families?

The inspiration for this blog post actually came from “Tuning into the real effect of smartphone use on parenting: a multiverse analysis” - a recent study by of 14,623 teens and adults in Australia. The most stunning finding was that the role of smartphones in families might possibly have a positive role:

At low levels of displacing time with family, more smartphone use was associated with better (not worse) parenting. The authors noted that, especially considering diverse family environments, smartphones play multiple roles in family life, and when not heavily impacting on family time, may have a positive role in parenting.

Where does this positive role come from? It boils down to whether you are a “warm parent” or not:

The take‐home message here is, supposing a causal relation exists, for individuals who would not self‐classify as warm parents, they may be better off displacing family time with their phone as opposed to not, at least for some uses such as time on SNS. The other (noncausal) interpretation is that parents who displace more time with their phones, and also spend a great deal of time on their phones (for some purposes), will be warmer than they otherwise would be. This pattern of effects held for measures of immersive tasks: SNS Intensity constructs, Check Intensity constructs; Text Intensity constructs, SNS, and Daily Checking. In this case, constructs tapping immersion with phone appear to work to connect or entertain parents and/or diffuse stress, concurrently nudging them upwards in warmth.

Quick Litmus Tests: How Are You Using Your Phone?

Do you get irritable when you get interrupted while using the phone?

Occasional parental inattention is not catastrophic (and may even build resilience), but chronic distraction is another story. Smartphone use has been associated with a familiar sign of addiction: Distracted adults grow irritable when their phone use is interrupted; they not only miss emotional cues but actually misread them. A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one, assuming that a child is trying to be manipulative when, in reality, she just wants attention.

Psychology Today notes:

Ultimately, kids thrive when they receive consistent, dependable, focused, loving attention. Using a smartphone when you’re with a child is a form of psychological withdrawal and non-responsiveness. We’re not talking about staying off your phone 100 percent of the time—more like 90 percent. It’s okay to answer an urgent text or make a quick call, especially if it includes your child.

So, Are You Warm?

Basically, if you are not that warm to begin with, it means you cannot handle being on your phone so you better spend more time with your family! If you are “warm” then it probably means that when you are on your phone, you make a conscious effort to spend quality TIME with your family to offset the time you were not available - and that you might be using the smartphone to take better care of yourself - be less stressed - and therefore more emotionally available for your family. So - it all comes down to how you manage your time with your loved ones, or not!!!


  1. Are You Good at Interacting in Real Life? If you as a parent, as a teen, as a family, as a person - are better at spending time on your phone than each other - then, it’s time for you to put down your phone and do something together. Remember, the most valuable thing you can give to someone is your UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.

  2. Is Internet Use Making You Passive? Consider whether your internet use, especially that of your children, is passive or active; is your child merely consuming information, or, leveraging the Internet to create art, solve problems, or otherwise use critical thinking skills? If not, time to turn off the WiFi!

  3. Are A Good Role Model For Your Kids? Hypocrisy and parenting isn’t usually a successful match - and kids are smart enough to know when you are telling them one thing, and doing another. So however you wish your children to use their phones, be sure to be a good example for them. You are the adult, you can do it!!!

Educational Perspective

Enlighteens Education brings this topic to your attention so that you can gain a greater understanding of your children and the role of technology in all of our lives. It is important to understand not only what is happening, but also why so that you can make your decisions about it, consciously. You as a family can take charge of how this influences you and everyone in your family.

As we explored in a previous blog post about gaming, we may “use” technology in various ways to address certain emotional needs - which may or may not be a successful strategy. If you can understand your own dependence upon your smartphone, the way you develop rules in your family about what is or is not allowed will be more substantial, and you may even have more empathy for the difficulty your children face in putting the phone down.

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