COVID-19 pandemic that started in early 2020 spread quickly across the world resulting in lockdowns and stay-at-home measures that have led to an increase in screen time exposure for adults and children alike . Unrestricted screen time has been regarded as the cause of various health problems such as obesity . Hence to nip the problem of excessive screen time in the bud, we have to understand the reasons why children spend a considerable amount of time in front of a screen. From there, we can better understand why it is important to reduce screen time in children.
One such factor why children can be addicted to screens is because children observe and imitate others, especially their parents, when learning and maturing. When parents use digital devices such as smartphones, tablets or computers for prolonged time periods due to work or personal reasons, this might set an example for children who are likely to follow suit. Research has shown that the type of devices parents use as well as the time parents spend in front of a digital screen can impact children’s screen time and screen use. Understanding this will allow parents to better manage their children’s device use to reduce screen time in their children.
We live in a digitalised world where various forms of digital media provide us with various advantages. Some of these benefits include having access to rapid social contact and support and even online medical support. However, the flip side of the coin is that excessive focus on digital media interferes with our ordinary face-to-face interactions with others in our lives. Even parent-child interactions have not been spared from such digital interference. The term “technoference” (“interference due to technology”)arose as a result of such phenomena. Technoference is regarded as an intrusion of interpersonal interactions due to the use of digital technology by adults or children. It can happen in any social setting, such as meal times at home or workplace meetings.
Parenting is already a demanding task of its own. Yet many parents have to be regularly connected with their phones due to work commitments, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when work-from-home is the norm. More and more children are also doing home-based learning during such COVID-19 times. Due to such round-the-clock connectedness, parents are likely to be unable to focus fully on their children even during family time. Distracted parenting emerges as a result.
Given the lack of parental attention, there are negative influences when electronic devices interfere with parent-child interpersonal interactions. We shall explore two of such influences below.
As parents pay more attention to their electronic devices even with their children, they are unable to provide their children with undivided attention. With the parents themselves juggling between taking care of their children and working from their screens, parents are unable to efficiently respond to the needs of their children. A research study on more than 6,000 children between the ages of 8 and 13 showcased that more than 2000 children felt insignificant when their parents were distracted by their phones during family time. These children felt that they were competing with electronic devices for their parents’ attention.
The second negative impact of parents’ excessive screen time and uses would be on the children themselves. Children imitate their parents’ device habits and spend a lot of time in front of screens as well. After exposure to screens for excessive periods of time, such as for more than 2 hours daily, these children might suffer from digital eye strain or even increase risk of development and progression of myopia. If left unchecked, such eye problems like high myopia might morph into more serious sight-threatening diseases like glaucoma in the future.
Children who feel neglected by their distracted parents glued to their screens might feel the need to resort to unpleasant or disorderly behaviour to get their parents’ attention. Smaller children might throw a tantrum, exhibit aggressive behaviour or burst into tears simply to draw attention to themselves .
Children are more likely to feel treasured and safe in the presence of their parents who set aside time away from digital screens to focus on them. If you are a parent and reading this, know that you are in charge of your child’s happy development and childhood. Set boundaries to your screen time in order to give a good example of enforcing healthy boundaries to your child’s screen time. The more positive and loving attention you provide your child, the less negative and harmful attention he or she would look for – from you or from elsewhere. This will help empower families to reduce screen time in children in the long run.
 COVID-19: Screen Time spikes to over 13 hours per day according to Eyesafe Nielsen estimates | Eyesafe®. [online] Eyesafe®. Available at: <https://eyesafe.com/covid-19-screen-time-spike-to-over-13-hours-per-day/> [Accessed 5 August 2021].
 Robinson, T., Banda, J., Hale, L., Lu, A., Fleming-Milici, F., Calvert, S. and Wartella, E., 2017. Screen Media Exposure and Obesity in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 140(Supplement 2), pp.S97-S101.
 Verywell Family. 2021. Why Too Much Cell Phone Usage Can Hurt Your Family Relationships. [online] Available at: <https://www.verywellfamily.com/negative-effects-of-too-much-cell-phone-use-621152> [Accessed 5 August 2021].
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