It is time to become familiar with 'technoference'

Learn what it is and how it affects you and your family.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes that many people use a great deal of technology to manage their everyday life. What we are finding out, through some recent research, is that the increase of technology use is having a negative effect on our relationships, our mental health, our children’s behavior and their language development.

Picture this:

It’s an early weekday morning. My husband and I are eating breakfast, together at the table. I know as a family development specialist, this is a good thing. It leads to good communication and family bonding. Then, my cell phone dings. I pick it up to see if it is a work email, I may need to respond to before I head out on my 45-minute commute. About 15 minutes later, my husband discretely clears his throat. Where did I go? Oh yeah, there was that Facebook post I had to Like and all those cute kittens, and someone liked one of my posts, and look at all those Twitter notifications, and look at all those fun pictures on Instagram. During which, I am also mindlessly eating my breakfast and downing coffee. Sound familiar?

What’s the big deal, you might think? Besides the fact that I am mindlessly adding calories to my waistline that I may never remember, it is not doing our relationship nor my mental health any good either. Researchers Brandon McDaniel and Sarah Coyne (2016) found in their studies that technology interruptions or ‘technoference’ in everyday life such as during conversations and mealtimes have a negative effect on relationships and personal well-being. They reported that the more interruptions or technoference participants rated was related to more couple arguments over technology use, a person’s lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms and overall dissatisfaction with life. The best advice I can give myself (and you, if this applies to you), is to have a cell-free zone at the table to avoid situations like I just described to you.

Now imagine I am a mom of a toddler, trying to feed my child breakfast, get ready for work, get the diaper bag packed, make lunch and perhaps get a start on dinner. All the time I may be texting friends, looking at Facebook for some mom-inspiration to get me through the day, reading emails, etc. My child is at that age where they are somewhat challenging. It seems though, every time I get a text, and just start to answer, she throws her food on the floor and screams. This happens every morning. Turns out that another study by McDaniel and Radesky (2017) showed that a higher amount of ‘technoference’ was directly related to worse behavior in children. Having a cell-free zone at the breakfast table with my toddler may help improve her behavior and make our mornings less stressful. Bonus!

In addition, if I am still that mom of a toddler, I realize she is just beginning to learn new words. I really want to be supportive and try to teach her new words every day. I recognize that I am her first and best teacher. Kathy Hirsh Pasek (2018) found that a young child’s learning is actually interrupted when parents are interrupted. In her study, children did not learn new words when the teaching was interrupted by a cell phone call to their parents, and they did learn new words when parents had a conversation with them. It’s about the human connection and being responsive to the child. Children learn from back and forth talking. Having that cell-free zone at breakfast with my child may not only improve their behavior, it may improve their vocabulary which has a direct impact on their future success in reading and learning.

Our homes and families are the places we should be able to go reconnect with each other, as human beings. Technology can be a fun way to escape and feel connected to the outside world, however being with your family in the here and now is something precious and fleeting. ‘Posts’ last forever, people don’t. 


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