### Desire to Decrease Smartphone Usage Surges Among Majority of Parents

A child perched atop a playground tower calls out, “Mommy, look at me!” and pleads, “Daddy, can you push me on the swing?” However, the parents remain engrossed in a stock trade, a news story, or a Facebook comment, failing to immediately divert their attention from their phones. The child escalates their efforts, raising their voice in a desperate attempt to capture their parents’ focus — “Look at me! Push me!”

Meanwhile, a teenager, exhausted from a challenging day, flops onto the couch. The parent, lost in their phone screen, fails to notice the teen’s distress, overlooking the need for a comforting hug or words of encouragement.

Statistics indicate that the average person spends nearly 7 hours daily on internet-connected screens (Howarth, 2023). The concept of “technoference,” as defined by Dixon and colleagues (2023), refers to the habitual disruptions in interpersonal relationships or shared time caused by electronic device usage.

A significant number of parents express a desire to reduce “technoference” in parenting to be more present for their children. A survey conducted in December 2023 on parents’ New Year’s Resolutions revealed that over half of parents aspire to decrease their phone usage (Michigan Medicine, 2023). Various studies suggest that achieving this goal can lead to a range of positive outcomes.

Research highlights the adverse effects of excessive parental phone use in the presence of children, including:

  • Diminished parental responsiveness – Parents engaging with their phones were five times less likely to respond to their children promptly (Vanden Abeele et al., 2020), exhibiting weaker and delayed reactions (Vanden Abeele et al., 2020).
  • Neglect of children’s attempts at interaction (resulting in reduced emotional support) during phone use (Elias et al., 2020).
  • Reduced overall parental sensitivity towards children under 5 years old (while using phones) (Braune-Krickau et al., 2021).
  • Lower emotional intelligence in children – Kids exposed to frequent parental phone use exhibited lower emotional intelligence (Nabi & Wolfers, 2022).
  • Increased unhappiness in children – Infants displayed more negative emotions and less positive affect when parents were engrossed in their phones (Myruski, 2021).
  • Elevated risk of mental health issues in adolescents (such as depression and anxiety) due to “technoference” with parents (Dixon et al., 2023).

Mobile phones, particularly through social media platforms, employ variable reward systems to keep parents engaged, prompting them to continually seek rewards like Instagram likes or Facebook comments. These rewards trigger small dopamine releases that foster addiction (Haynes, 2018). While parents may use phones for organizing tasks like reading school newsletters, purchasing gifts, or managing household essentials, the detrimental impact on genuine parental presence and the potential negative emotional consequences for children prompt a natural inclination to reduce screen time.

Key strategies to effectively reduce phone screen time include:

  • Immersing in nature – Research indicates that spending time in natural settings correlates with decreased smartphone usage, potentially aiding in inhibiting digital impulses (Minor et al., 2023).
  • Switching to grayscale mode – One study revealed that participants using grayscale settings experienced reduced smartphone dependency, anxiety, and screen time, likely due to the diminished visual appeal of the phone (Holte et al., 2021).
  • Batching notifications – Participants who received notifications thrice daily reported enhanced attentiveness, productivity, mood, and phone control, along with reduced stress and interruptions (Fitz et al., 2019).

Establishing tech-free zones, such as during meals or specific times of the day, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic, can also be beneficial in curbing excessive phone use (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2022).

Reducing phone dependency not only enhances parenting effectiveness but also contributes to improved well-being for parents. Studies suggest that decreased phone usage correlates with alleviation of issues like eye strain, neck pain, back pain, weight gain, depression, and loneliness (Daniyal et al., 2022).