'I-phone orphans': Please may I have your attention?

'I-phone orphans': Please may I have your attention?


As concerned adults, whether as parents, grandparents, therapists or teachers, we often worry about how much time children and young people spend each day looking at screens, or playing with technology. We worry about how this may be impacting their health, their development, their sleep, and their learning: I know I do. Perhaps, however, we need to also be mindful of how much we adults are engaging in screen time, when we could be missing opportunities for interacting with our children? 

An article in the local paper caught my eye last Sunday, at the cafe we often go to on our weekly bike ride.  'I phone Orphans' was the catchy headline. Its origin seems to be in this article from a British newspaper, which outlines a concern that adults (especially parents) are not available to their children when they are looking excessively at their phones, and suggests that children are noticing. There is even a name for it: technoference.

An interesting finding, from an experiment conducted last year, was that there was a link between parents' phone use, and their perception of their children's behaviour, such as whingeing and having tantrums, which can often be seen as bids for attention. The more parents admitted to technoference, the greater these behaviours were. 

This reminds me of the Still face experiment, which shows how babies quickly become distressed when their caregiver's face becomes unresponsive. Babies', and young children's brains need meaningful engagement with significant others to stimulate development, and they will seek this engagement elsewhere if it is not available from parents or carers. Similarly, another study showed that in romantic relationships, if one half of the couple is looking excessively at their phone, the other person can feel abandoned.

Obviously, phones are a great invention, and can be fantastic for helping parents to feel connected, breaking isolation, and reducing stress. However, as with many fantastic things (delicious food comes to mind), moderation is important, as the article suggests. 

With the holidays coming up, it makes sense to try to limit screen time for children and adults alike, and planning other activities is the key: try to make time to talk to each other, play a board game, go outside for a walk, cook something together, or maybe even do some do some art!