Technology During Dinnertime? Mother Says NO! I: Introduction, Lit Review, and Methodology

Technology During Dinnertime? Mother Says NO! I: Introduction, Lit Review, and Methodology

How Technology May Interfere with Parent Attachment

Screen media is proliferating quickly. From television to other forms of media, such as portable tablet devices, video games, smartphones, consoles, and so on, technology is already part of our daily routine and is interfering with the parent–child interaction. This parent–child interaction is crucial for developing a secure attachment, and the mother’s responsiveness to the needs and actions of the infant or child is essential. A study from Schmidt, Pempek, Kirkorian, Lund, & Anderson (2008) reported that the quality and quantity of parent–child interaction faces interference once there is a television on in the background due to a reduction in mothers’ responsiveness to their respective children’s needs. Schmidt et al. (2008) also suggested that the background television is putting children’s development at risk. Maternal responsiveness is described by Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda (1989) as a “mother’s prompt, contingent, and appropriate (not simply contiguous) behaviour” (p. 50), and contingent responding is associated with secure attachment and happiness (Clarke-Stewart, 1973).

Nathanson and Manohar (2012) studied how television can be purposely used as a form of parenting where parents interpret children’s screen time as personal time. For example, if child care is unavailable and a parent has a report to write or a dinner to prepare, the child might be given “screen time” or some form of technology so that the child can find entertainment while the parent accomplishes the task at hand. Their study concludes that more television and computer time is linked to weak attachment to parents. They further reported that we cannot simply assume that parents are nurturing their children just because the television is off. Also, Nathanson and Rasmussen (2011) reported that parents need to learn about the relevance of parent–child communication, particularly in the first years of a child’s life, because it stimulates language and responsive communication.

Napier (2014) stated that there is a “potential impact of exposure to screen media on the emotional development of infants” and suggested, “screen time has disruptive effect on parent–child interactions, which are essential for developing secure attachment” (p.18).

Technology interruptions and intrusions can interfere with quality life among family members, causing displacements and conflicts over its use; recommendations on better technology use and fewer interruptions should lead to higher quality family interactions (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016). Substantial parental time on mobile devices is correlated with a reduction in verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and children (Radesky et al., 2015). So, it is a reciprocal problem where the use of technology among children and parents puts the parental–child relationship at risk.

Technology and its Use During Family Mealtime

Ferdous et al. (2016) reported that “Mobile networked devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are easily available during mealtimes, yet depending on familial norms, these technologies may be embraced warmly, used discretely, or forbidden entirely” (p.1). For Moser, Schoenebeck, & Reinecke (2016), “mealtime is a cultural phenomenon observed in almost every culture and society around the world” (p.3) and is essential to support children’s development such as socialization, social expectation, language, and custom (Fulkerson, Neumark-Sztainer, & Story, 2006; Ochs & Shohet, 2006). Family mealtimes are associated with several positive outcomes for youngsters and teenagers, such as improving communication and health. (Moser et al. 2016).

Elevated rates of TV watching or playing video games during meals are correlated with poorer health outcomes (Coon, Goldberg, Rogers, & Tucker, 2001; Brunstrom and Mitchell, 2006). In a study conducted by Fulkerson et al. (2014) with 2,793 adolescents, families reported that approximately 67% of parents described their teens interacting with technology during family meals at least sometimes, and 25.5% identified using television frequently during meals. The study also indicated that the parents reported the following occasional usage of technology during mealtimes by adolescents as: texting, talking on the phone, listening to music with headphones, and playing handheld games were reported by 28.4%, 25.5%, 22.2%, and 18.2% of the parents respectively; frequent usage of those technologies was reported by fewer than 10% of parents for those four categories. Fulkerson also reported, “parents whose adolescents did not frequently use media during meals had significant higher scores on family communication and scores reflecting a greater perceived importance of mealtimes” (p.1055).

A study conducted by Moser et al. (2016) investigating the attitudes about mobile phone use during mealtime with family, friends, and acquaintances confirms that:

Going online or using social media at meals is rated as less appropriate than texting or answering calls; Adults using a mobile phone at meals is rated as more appropriate than children doing so; People’s own mobile phone use is the strongest predictor of their beliefs about its appropriateness; From childhood through adulthood, perceived appropriateness increases, then declines after reaching the mid-twenties [sic]; Having a child present at the meal decreases perceived appropriateness of adult phone use (p. 7).

Literature Review Conclusion

No literature was found that examined the importance of not using technology during mealtime to promote attachment, and that was the reason why this study was so unique, new, interesting, and important to conduct.

Parents might have different reasons for disallowing technology during mealtime, but as stated earlier, evidence shows a reduction in mothers’ responsiveness to the children’s needs once there is a television on in the background (Schmidt et al., 2008) which is a relevant fact that might well interfere with attachment. Also, it can easily be applied to other types of technology where sensitivity to their children’s needs is not being met to promote a secure attachment.

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About the Author

Camilla MoreiraCamilla was born in Brazil and came to Canada with a degree in Psychology from the Catholic University of Pernambuco (UNICAP). She obtained her Master of Psychology from Adler Graduate Professional School. Camilla is a registered psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO), and a member of the Ontario Association of Consultants, Counsellors, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists (OACCPP) as well as the Canadian Association for Child and Play Therapy (CAPT). She has Level I, II, III certifications in play therapy as well as in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Camilla has experience in providing individual therapeutic services to children, youth and adults diagnosed with depression, behavioural problems, and anxiety (GAD, PTSD, separation anxiety, fears, phobia, and OCD). Her passions include spending time with her family, traveling, reading, children, and the ocean.

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