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Technology addiction and technoference

The term “technoference” was coined by Professor Brandon McDaniel. It’s now used to describe the everyday intrusions and interruptions that technology such as smartphones have on our personal relationships. McDaniel has completed a number of studies on technoference, around couples’ relationships and women’s personal and relational wellbeing, as well as parent-child relationships. It’s these parent-child relationships that we’ll focus on for this discussion, but you may find parallels in other areas of life.

An article in The Atlantic outlines how a ground-breaking study first began to explore the impact technology was having on parents. The headline result drew a lot of attention: the more caregivers were absorbed by their smartphones, the more harshly they treated the children they were with. This study has since been built upon by more recent research, including that of McDaniel.

As the Atlantic article points out, this is a repositioning of previous worries and anxieties over technology, such as screen time (television, games consoles etc), and more recently social media. We’ve seen television programmes warning against the perils of technology (for example Cyberbully), and there’s been a plethora of studies on the effects of technologies on children and young people. Where the new studies differ is in shifting the focus from the the habits of the child to the habits of the parent: it’s not children’s engagement with technology that is under scrutiny, but how parents’ technology habits may impact upon their children.

There’s been research that indicates that children want their parents to use technology less and be “present”. There’s also research to suggest that, while parents are physically present in their children’s lives, they are not emotionally available – something that could potentially have harmful consequences on child cognitive development. One study has even shown that, as technology use becomes more prevalent, children face increased physical dangers, with rises in the number of child visits to the emergency department at the hospital.

Research into technoference is still in its infancy. There are plans for longitudinal research studying its influence from birth and throughout childhood. However, while we wait for such research to come to fruition, the following strategies from McDaniel may be worth a try:

Strategies for avoiding or reducing technoference:

  1. Check how often you use your phone and other technology: Most of us don’t even realize how much we are using our devices. Your phone settings may include logs of how much you use certain apps, and there are apps you can download (such as Moment, Checky, and Menthal) that will track your use – a handy first step towards changing your patterns of behaviour.

  2. Develop strategies to keep yourself ‘present’ with your children: Create some technology-free zones and/or times in your home. Some parents have set up a ‘phone box’ where they put their phones until the kids have gone to bed or during dinner. Set a goal to put your phone down or look up from your tablet/computer immediately when a child or other family member walks into the room. You want to show them that they are the most important thing to you at that moment.

  3. Try to ask yourself the following question every time you pull your phone out while with your children: Can this wait until later? If the answer is yes, then practice re-engaging with your child instead of pulling out the device. McDaniel’s research suggests that the fewer technological interruptions, the better behaved your child is likely to be over time. Try to replace the habit of checking your phone with the habit of engaging with your family.

  4. If you are married or have a romantic partner, make sure you are on the same page: McDaniel’s research has linked technoference with a reduction in relationship and co-parenting quality (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016 a & b), which will ultimately affect your relationship with your children.

  5. Get back to nature: Spend some time away from computers, televisions, and other technology. Go to the woods or by the ocean: it’s not just good for your own physical and emotional health, but also that of your children. In Japan, the health effects of ‘forest baths’ in different locations have been measured, and the best are covered by health insurance. If you want to take pictures, and your only camera is on your phone, switch it to airplane mode.

  6. It’s not easy but keep going. Work on getting a bit better each day.

What do you think of these strategies? Whether or not you’re a parent, have you suffered from ‘technoference’? Have you found any of your own strategies to avoid it?

Let us know in the comments below.

Bibliography of paywalled sources

Where an openly accessible source is available, it has been linked in the text above.

  • McDaniel, Brandon T. and Coyne, Sarah M. (2016 a): “‘Technoference’: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being”, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(1) (Jan 2016), 85-98. (doi:10.1037/ppm0000065).
  • McDaniel, Brandon T. and Coyne, Sarah M. (2016 b): “Technology interference in the parenting of young children: Implications for mothers’ perceptions of coparenting”, Social Science Journal, 53(4) (Dec 2016), 435-443. (doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2016.04.010).
  • McDaniel, Brandon T. and Radesky, Jenny S. (2018): “Technoference: longitudinal associations between parent technology use, parenting stress, and child behavior problems”, Pediatric Research. (doi:10.1038/s41390-018-0052-6).

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This article is from the free online course:

Digital Wellbeing

University of York