Whether it’s texting or tweeting, browsing or blogging, ‘checking our tech’ has become a 24-hour obsession. But could our gadget gluttony be affecting our children’s health? We uncover 10 harmful habits to watch out for – and ways to combat them
1. Anti-social media
Competing with siblings for attention is a normal part of family life, but studies suggest competing with technology could make children feel undervalued, with children as young as one showing signs of distress when they can’t get eye contact.
Wean off the wifi: Ring fence phone-free daily rituals such as bath time and reading time and turn off background devices. Research shows ‘second hand’ TV can negatively impact on social-emotional development as much as direct viewing.
Consider taking the #DeviceFreeDinner pledge, or come up with a great conversation starter for each meal to make it enjoyable and engaging without technology.
2. Eating while tweeting
“Using devices while eating can teach our children bad dietary habits,” says nutritional therapist Angelique Panagos. “And it means we have no idea what we’re eating, and how much we’re eating.” Harley Street specialist child and adolescent dietitian Ana-Kristina Skrapac adds that parents often resort to distraction techniques with fussy eaters. “They divert the child's attention and more mouthfuls go in, but this disengagement between eating and awareness may have an impact on satiety and the ability to self regulate. Often the distraction itself can feed into the fussy habits, and a cycle is perpetuated.”
Wean off the wifi: Consider taking the #DeviceFreeDinner pledge, or come up with a great conversation starter for each meal to make it enjoyable and engaging without technology.
3. High-tech health risks
Bending over your mobile might not seem like a major health risk but it’s thought just two hours a day can lead to neck and back problems, dubbed ‘iPosture’, ‘texting tendonitis’, brought on by repeated texting, and even heighten the risk of macular degeneration.
Wean off the wifi: Alternate hands, don’t walk and scroll, and look after yourself and you’ll look after the kids better.
4. More gadgets, less get-up-and-go
Research shows children and adults who use home technology regularly are more likely to be more sedentary. “Our reliance on technology to contact each other rather than getting up and talking to one another leads to a lot less physical activity too,” says Dr Ian Campbell, GP and obesity specialist.
Wean off the wifi: Swap The Sims for a Wii Fit balance board to get the family moving or better still wear fitness trackers and compete for the most steps!
5. Too much multi-tasking
You’re cooking dinner while watching TV and answering a text from your friend when an email pings into your inbox. Sound familiar? While this might appear to be the ultimate in multitasking, research has shown it can lead to reduced attention span, depression and anxiety, and have a knock on effect to how we parent.
Wean off the wifi: “Some studies have suggested phone alerts could release dopamine in our brains just like gambling, cigarette smoking and alcohol – so regain control over your phone use and set clear boundaries for yourself and your kids,” says Ana Ribeiro, clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher.
6. Never switching off
Being constantly plugged in to work emails or texts means we never escape the office. “If we have very fuzzy boundaries when we are meant to be with our kids, this will have an impact on the quality of our relationships,” says Ribeiro.
Wean off the wifi: Have set times for work-time at home-time, and talk to your employer about the need to unplug.
7. Twitter before turning in
Our brains are hardwired to produce the sleep chemical melatonin as light fades, but bright lights from electronic devices trick our brain into waking up. “Screen time before bed can excite rather than calm and this impacts learning, memory and mood,” says Ribeiro. Not only can this make us bad tempered parents, it can also affect our marriage. A Durham University study revealed an increasing number of us are swapping foreplay for play stations, and even reading texts during intercourse!
Wean off the wifi: Avoid exposure to devices and screens one hour before bedtime.
8. Addiction begets addiction
A 2015 South Korean study suggested parental addiction to smartphones was one of the key factors in determining the likelihood of addictive use in young children. “Children under the age of 11 mimic parents’ behaviour and take a cue for socially acceptable norms,” adds Dr Rahul Chodhari of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Wean off the wifi: “If we spend too much time looking at screens, how do we tell our kids not to?” says Ribeiro. “Walk the walk and be an inspiring role model.”
9. Pause before you post
According to a University of Washington and University of Michigan study, many children express concerns about parents' ’over-sharing’ on social networks.
Wean off the wifi: Respect the boundaries you set for your children, and apply them to your own social media use. If they're old enough, make sure you ask your children for permission to share photos.
10. When it becomes a serious distraction
Technology that sidetracks you while you eat can be unhealthy, but when it interferes with your driving, it can be life threatening. While it’s illegal to use hand held phones (even at traffic lights or when stationary), motoring experts believe sat navs, hands-free devices and in-car infotainment could still be to blame for a rising death toll on our roads.
Wean off the wifi: Keep your eyes on the road not on your texts: put your do not disturb alert on your mobile, connect to Bluetooth, and switch off all tech during poor road conditions.