“Technoference” is the term researchers use for the often brief interruptions of screens in family or couple time. A reality that has become common that seems to influence parental practices and could have an impact on child development, according to a synthesis of knowledge published by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ).
In a park, parents swipe the screen of their smartphone while their children climb in the play modules, play ball or simmer who knows what, hidden behind the mound. The scene is nothing special. Mobile technologies are part of most parents’ lives, so they could have an effect on their parenting role, notes this summary by a research team from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) , as part of the Quebec Strategy on Screen Use and Youth Health 2022-20251.
Based on a review of 15 studies published between 2015 and 2021 on the use of screens by parents of children aged 0 to 6, the research shows that parents make significant use of screens in the presence of their young children. .
“They do it in very diverse places, everyday, at home, while breastfeeding, in parks, in fast food places, in waiting rooms,” observes Andréane Melançon, scientific advisor specializing in development de l’enfant at the INSPQ and co-author of the study.
Parents participating in the studies compiled reported using mobile technologies for the equivalent of 14% to 23% of their child’s waking time. These studies were all conducted outside of Canada, but in countries with similar screen usage, Melançon said.
“We know that in early childhood, especially from 0 to 5 years old, the parents, the family, represent the main living environment, therefore the main environment of influence for children,” she continues.
Thus, according to the studies observed, having their gaze immersed in the screen of their smartphone can make the parent less vigilant, less sensitive or reactive to the needs of the child and less present in learning situations.
Studies also show that screens are an integral part of breastfeeding sessions. Between 68% and 100% of mothers in the selected studies say they use their smartphone while breastfeeding, and those who use it do so on average half the time. Mothers may then be less attentive to their baby’s cues.
However, the use of the telephone during these times can also allow mothers to accomplish other tasks, to feel productive or to break the social isolation that can be induced by motherhood. “Some mothers say, ‘It’s long, I feel isolated, I need to keep in touch, it’s hard physically, it hurts, I need to think about other things.’ It must be taken into account, so that the workers who have contact with the families can also meet these needs of the mothers, ”shades Andréane Melançon.
What concrete effects does parental screen use have on the child? This was not the purpose of this research, which rather aimed to assess the use of mobile technologies. However, certain studies consulted shed light on the possible impacts.
“First, there is the health and safety aspect,” Ms. Melançon points out. When the parent is on their phone, there could be more occasions where the child could get hurt [at the playground in particular]. Then there is the bond of attachment that the child will develop with his parent, a bond that develops in the first two years of life, when the parent reacts appropriately and quickly. This too, we have seen that it is affected, so we wonder: could the attachment of children be diminished by the parental use of mobile technologies? »
However, these studies do not establish a clear causal link between mobile technologies and these observed effects on child development. In addition, no longitudinal study has assessed the duration of these effects over time.
“It’s a field that’s emerging, but the studies are starting to come out. We expect to be able to continue our questioning in the coming years,” said Ms. Melançon.
At the end of this research, the INSPQ does not make specific recommendations regarding the use of screens. “We don’t want to ban the use of screens,” says the co-author of the study. They are useful and essential. We want everyone to be informed and to work together, for example, family living environments and the workplace, which could promote better work-family balance. It is important that we see this as a shared responsibility. »