25 May Is Our Internet Addiction Wrecking Family Life?
Our children’s relationship with tech is an uncomfortable subject. With the huge opportunity for learning and connectivity comes a multitude of concerns for parents. Kids can become so absorbed in their mobile phones and devices that it can affect their relationships, make them more distracted and impact their mental health.
Why is this? Well, much of today’s technology is addictive by design. Mobile phone applications send notifications, offer intermittent variable rewards and have a particualr incentive to get users to spend more time on them. When teen girls reach 18, they’re apparently spending upwards of 85 hours a month on their smartphones.
Perhaps the most troubling effect on younger people’s technology use is the correlation between it and the rise in mental health problems. It may be that opening up about mental health has less of a stigma attached to it, but the empirical evidence that too much tech – particularly social media – can lead to mental health issues appears very clear. Instagram in particular, can create problems around body image and cyber bullying.
But this problem isn’t just about young people. The average time spent for all UK adults on smartphone screens is about 65 hours a month – more than two hours a day. While the kids are busy on messaging apps, games and social media, their parents have the same level of access – and indeed appetite – for these things. But they also have the additional burden of unrestricted work email, which can be sent to them at any time – even when they’re on holiday.
Parents are no less susceptible to the addictive qualities of their technology and the effect of this is that relationships with their children can really suffer. A recent BBC article ‘I wish my mum’s phone was never invented‘ featured a Louisana class where children were asked about an invention that they didn’t like. 4 out of the 21 students wrote about mobile phones. One wrote:
“If I had to tell you what invention I don’t like, I would say that I don’t like the phone. I don’t like the phone because my parents are using their phones every day. A phone is sometimes a really bad habit. I hate my mom’s phone and I wish she never had one. That is a invention that I don’t like”.
Furthermore, a study published in May 2017 found that many parent-child relationships were impacted by ‘technoference.’ Family relationships were found to be suffering when adults were prioritising interacting with their phones at a time when they should have had their attention focused on their children.
In her book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle documents a father-daughter relationship spending time together at a camp. The father can’t fathom the notion of not taking his phone on the trip, and while he is there spends large amounts of time documenting it and sharing it on social media. While much of the posting is indeed about his relationship with his daughter, and they look like they’re having a lovely time, he is actually spending the majority of his time on his phone doing the uploading and interacting. His daughter sits next to him, silently. The act of sharing his time spent with his daughter on social media is distracting him from spending quality time with her.
Constant checking of email, social media and the other apps that chime and buzz away on our phones is for most of us a familiar feature of life at home. But for the sake of our relationships, maybe it’s time we weaned ourselves off more at home and back into a more analogue world?