Are screens coming between you and your child?

Are screens coming between you and your child?
Many parents log a lot of screen time, which can lead to less quality time with their kids.

Many parents log a lot of screen time, which can lead to less quality time with their kids.

Some parents can’t help but check their phones to go on social media or send a text even while they’re taking their child for a walk in her stroller, feeding her, having a meal, playing a game, or spending time at the park. More and more scientific studies are examining the impact of screens on family life, and the results are sobering: when parents are focused on an electronic device, they interact less with their children and pay less attention to them.

Catherine Piché, mother of 16-month-old Charlotte, has noticed how distracting technology can be. “To be there for a friend who was going through a hard time, I was constantly on Messenger for a few days to chat with my friends. At one point I realized I was so absorbed in my phone that I was paying less attention when my daughter talked to me. I wasn’t happy about that!”

“Look at me!”

Interacting with young children is essential to their development. “Your child needs you to talk to her, look at her, and play with her,” says psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie. “It’s essential to helping her build self-esteem, develop social skills, manage her emotions, and learn in general. When a child lacks attention, she may express her needs in a negative way, like by throwing a tantrum.” Studies show that the more time parents spend on electronic devices, the more their children misbehave.

Reduce your screen time

It goes without saying that screens are useful. The challenge is finding a balance so that they don’t disrupt your family life. Using them less when you’re around your kids is a good start. Ariane Foisy, mother of four-year-old Zack Émyl and six-year-old Nathan, is trying to do just that. “I have a small business and I used to work on my laptop on weekends. Someone pointed it out to me and it made me think. Since then, my weekends have been more about spending time with my sons than working.”

For her part, Aurore Robert-Mavounia, mother of two-year old Aydann and seven-year-old Malaïka, has deleted a lot of the apps on her phone. “The more time I spent checking who said what on Facebook or playing games, the less quality time I spent with my family.”

More ideas for managing your screen time

  • Establish a noscreen rule (that includes smartphones!) during key family moments: dinnertime, bedtime, trips to the park, etc.
  • Challenge yourself to switch off all screens and play with your child for 10 to 15 minutes at least a few times a week.
  • Get into the habit of putting your phone down right away and looking at your child when he talks to you or wants your attention.
  • Use an app that keeps tabs on how much you use your phone (e.g., Moment, ActionDash) and set goals to gradually decrease the time you spend on it.

Finding it hard to cut down?

Are you addicted to your phone or to video games? Start by trying to figure out why: do you use your phone to escape boredom, avoid your problems, reduce stress, relax, or calm down? “Pay attention as well to how you feel when you can’t use your device,” says Marie-Anne Sergerie. “If you get grumpy, frustrated, upset, or depressed, it could be a sign that you’re using it to manage your emotions.”

If this rings true for you, Sergerie suggests exploring healthier ways to meet your needs, such as walking, meditating, exercising, taking your child to the park, reading, or listening to music. “The idea isn’t to eliminate screens altogether but to remember that there are other ways to keep yourself entertained.” she adds.

By using screens in moderation, you set a good example for your child. “I worked hard to break my addiction to my smartphone,” says Aurore. “I want to show my kids that there’s more to life than staring at screens, starting with showing an interest in the people around us.”

Your child’s digital footprint

According to a MediaSmarts survey, about 75 percent of parents share photos or videos of their kids on social media. A British survey found that parents post an average of 300 photos of their kids on social media each year. That adds up to 1,500 photos before they’ve even turned five! This phenomenon raises concerns about children’s privacy. “The child hasn’t consented to any of this,” says Cathy Tétreault of Centre Cyber-aide. “When she grows up, she might not appreciate seeing her whole life on the internet, especially since the images will probably still be traceable.” Her advice to parents is to limit posting pictures of their kids as much as possible and to make the photos accessible to their loved ones only. It’s also a good idea to let relatives know about these rules to make sure they respect them too.


Photos: Getty Images/vorDa, Maxim Morin, and Getty Images/Rawpixel


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, May–June 2019
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Catalina Briceño, author and visiting professor at UQAM’s media school