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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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screen time

Overuse of smartphones by parents 'can affect infants'

Researchers have found technological interruption and interference in family life can have “far-reaching implications” on an infant.

PARENTS WHO ARE unresponsive to their children because of smartphone absorption can cause their infants to be distressed and could have “far-reaching impacts” on their child’s development, psychologists have said.

“Technoference”, which is technological interruption and interference in everyday family life, can have “far-reaching implications” on an infant who is “utterly reliant” on their parent, according to the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI).

The PSI are hosting a webinar today that will explore the impact of smartphone use by a parent in the presence of infants.

The aim of the seminar is to find supports and strategies, which can be used by parents of young and infant children, towards healthy smartphone use and habits.

Psychologists Anne-Marie Casey and Jillian Doyle told The Journal that with the vast majority of adults checking their phone 50-80 times per day – resulting in three to six hours of  screen time – “concerns are growing” about the impact that devices have the physical, socioemotional, and cognitive development of infants.

Many parents have yet to consider the impact over-use of smartphones can have on the relationship between parent and infant. The PSI said this creates an “attention economy” between baby and phone.

The psychologists said: “Emerging data is by and large suggesting a negative impact of technoference on relationships, attachment, social and emotional development, language learning and at times, child safety which is suggested from the number of accidents reported which increased with the introduction of the 4G network.

Research has shown that the use of smart phones by mothers is associated with less eye contact and less verbal and nonverbal communication.”

Casey and Doyle added that the “unresponsiveness” from a parent because of “smart phone absorption” can cause distress in the child.

“Having a parent physically present, but emotionally unavailable because they are absorbed in their phone can feel confusing and distressing for a small child,” the researchers said.

What to do?

The psychologists said that parents should be aware of “when and how” they use their smartphone around their children and reminded parents not to be critical of themselves.

“Notice when and how you are using your phone including times when you are in the presence of your children,” they added.

Screen time trackers and limiters are also suggested by the researchers so parents can monitor and restrict their device use. Additionally, Casey and Doyle suggest that parents become aware of just how much time is taken up thinking about their phone.

They also suggest that parents should “reflect on what the function” their phone plays and question themselves if they are using it for a reason that isn’t justified in regards to family life.

Casey and Doyle said: “Could you put some boundaries in place around smartphone use – for example, not at the dinner table, or leave the phone outside the bedroom?

“Perhaps you could consider having somewhere to leave the phone – out of sight out of mind!

“Is there protected time away from a phone where you can put it away and spend quality time without the device? Could you set an alarm to signal the end of screen time?” 

The webinar is being held today over Zoom at 3pm. Those interested in attending can register here.

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