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125: Should you worry about technoference?
20th November 2020 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:59:32

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I often hear two related ideas about adults' screen usage around children. Sometimes the parent asking the question guiltily confesses to using screens around their children more than they would like, and to using screens as a momentary escape from the demands of parenting. Or the parent asking the question feels that they have found a sense of balance in their own screen usage, but worries about their partner who frequently ignores their child because they're so focused on a screen. In this episode we interview a luminary in the field of research related to children and screen usage: Dr. Jenny Radesky, who is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School.  Her research interests include the use of mobile technology by parents and young children, and how this relates to child self-regulation and parent-child interaction, and she was the lead author of the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on digital media use in early childhood. We'll learn whether you should be worried about Technoference, and some judgement-free steps you can take to navigate your (or your partner's) screen usage around your child.   [accordion] [accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"] Jen 00:03 Hi, I’m Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives, but it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you’d like to be notified when new episodes are released and get a FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths That We Can Safely Leave Behind, seven fewer things to worry about, subscribe to the show at You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you’ll join us. Jen 01:00 Hello, everyone. Before we get into the topic of today's new episode, I wanted to let you know about my special Black Friday promotion that I have running now through midnight, Pacific time on Friday, November 27th. For this limited time, I'm offering access to my parenting membership for only $25 a month, and to my supporting your child's learning membership for only $35 a month. Now those of you who know me, and the show might be kind of surprised to hear me running a Black Friday promotion. After all, I get complaints about my left-leaning, anti-capitalist stance all the time. And I thought it would be doubly amusing to talk about this before an episode on technoference, which is when technology like our smartphones interferes with our relationships, because I imagine a number of you are planning technology related purchases for the holidays. Jen 01:43 But I decided to do this for two reasons. Firstly, I know these memberships can help you. I've seen so many parents transform their approach to parenting and get confident in supporting their child's love of learning through the memberships. And secondly, we're in a year when people are looking for holiday gifts that just don't involve bringing more stuff into our homes, and that also can't involve going out to museums and other places that may well be closed. And the parenting membership can really help you go from just hanging on to actually thriving in parenting. And the learning membership will help you make the best use of your time that you're already spending with your children to support their intrinsic love of learning. And third, things are completely aligned with my values. If you miss the Black Friday promotion, they will still be time to enroll at the regular rate starting on December 1st and we'll dive into the content as a group on January 1st. Just go to to learn more and enroll today. Jen 02:42 Now, whether you take advantage of the Black Friday promotion, or you enroll in December, I believe in helping as many families as possible, and I've tried to make even the regular rates accessible to everyone. I'm confident that anyone who joins and learns the material that I'll make easily accessible for you will support learning and development in their children, find parenting easier, and lay the groundwork for transformational change at home. I want to read you a bit of a message that member Catherine wrote to me about her experience in the parenting membership. So, Catherine says, "the membership has really allowed me to hone in on the doing the concrete actions I want to take and move from the endless swirl of ideas to actually implementing the ones that are based on my values. It's allowed me to stop waiting for perfection when I figured out how to do it all and focus instead on progress. It just really hits the nail on the head of what I need to know. The most recent module we covered on our sense of ourselves as parents has allowed me to perceive so much differently in my day to day life and take in what I'm learning elsewhere in a different way. I've gained so much clarity even in the last week, and noticed a palpable difference in my sense of calm and in my acceptance of my children, my husband, and others with whom I interact in relation to my children." Jen 04:01 So, in my parenting membership, you'll lean on a research-based approach to support your child's development, while making parenting easier. This membership is for children aged around 18 months through the end of elementary school, regardless of where you are in your parenting journey: from the parent who's just trying to survive to the parent who's looking to the future. Your first year in the parenting membership is now only $25 a month through Black Friday, November 27th. In my supporting your child's learning membership, you'll learn how to best support your child's intrinsic love of learning. Most of us want this for our children, but we don't know how and even more how we interact with our children often actually works against this goal. This membership is for parents with children old enough to ask questions through the end of elementary school and who want to set the stage for a lifetime love of learning. Jen 04:52 Ginelle joined the membership because she wanted to support her children's love of learning, but the only way she knew how to do that was to do what school does. To teach them stuff they needed to know. Through the membership Ginelle has learned that she doesn't have to teach for her child to learn. In fact, some of the most powerful learning happens when we just model for our child. Ginelle found that one simple mindset shift has really made a huge difference in her ability to support her child's learning. She says, "Most notably, I find I'm answering my children's questions in a more open way. Sometimes this is with another question. Other times, it might just be a more vague, open-ended answer. It's a change that sounds so basic and common sense when I think about it now, but I needed that extra bump from the membership to actually make me realize it and apply it." Jen 05:41 Special Black Friday pricing for my supporting your child's learning membership is now only $35 a month through midnight Pacific on Black Friday, which is November 27th, and we get started on January 1st. Both of the memberships include all of the information that you need, and none of the fluff that you don't to achieve the easy joy-filled family life that you worked so hard for, but which may seem so out of reach right now. And both memberships include support and community so you can make that next tiny step that you need to take to help you reach your goals. Go to today to take advantage of these special Black Friday offers the parenting membership for only $25 a month, and the supporting your child's learning membership for only $35 a month. Support your child's learning and development while making parenting easier, perhaps the best gift you could give to your family this holiday season. Thanks again for listening. I hope the rest of your year is filled with joy and activities that are truly meaningful in your life. Jen 06:42 Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. I've had our topic today on my mind for a while and over the last few months I think it's become more relevant than it ever has been before. And the topic we're going to talk about today is technoference and that's the idea that technology, and specifically mobile phones, interferes with relationships that we have with other people. It can interfere with relationships of all kinds and your might first rest on your partner, and how you perceive your partner's phone use interfering with your relationship, and we'll certainly touch on that. But our primary focus for today will be on how our phones interfere with our relationships with our children. We'll learn how concerned we should really be about this and what we should try and do to balance our own needs for connectedness with others and our children's need for connectedness with us. Jen 07:33 And so here to discuss this today with us is Dr. Jenny Radesky. Dr. Radesky is a developmental behavioral pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr. Radesky obtained her MD from Harvard Medical School. Conducted her pediatrics residency at the University of Washington, and then a fellowship in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Boston University. She's board certified in pediatrics and developmental behavioral pediatrics. Her research interests include the use of mobile technology by parents and young children, and how this relates to child self-regulation and parent child interaction. She was the lead author of the 2016 American Academy of pediatrics policy statement on digital media use in early childhood. Jen 08:15 Welcome, Dr. Radesky. Dr. Radesky 08:16 Hi, thanks so much for having me. Jen 08:19 Okay, so let's start kind of where we often do when we're coming to a topic like this, which is with some definitions and terminology. And I actually learned a new word while I was researching this episode, which is fubbing. So, I'm wondering, can you help us understand what is technoference? What is fubbing? Is it the same thing? Or is it different? Dr. Radesky 08:38 It's pretty similar. I mean, the term fubbing was in the research literature first, as I was starting to try to research how parents phone use influences family dynamics. It was like 2010-2011, and I was in my fellowship, and I was scouring the literature for any prior research on parents and kids and technology. And there wasn't much there was really just this fubbing phenomenon, which was how a mobile phone inserts itself into an interpersonal space and the, you know, the person who is doing the fubbing kind of gets a little bit transported to, you know, another virtual space where they're interacting with someone else, or with other content. And then the fubbee gets, you know, often the research is showing they're frustrated. And this term started even when mobile phones were just little dumb phones, you know, with texting capabilities. And the mobile communications research was really just interested in, now we could take these devices everywhere, you know, they were focused on using technology on mass transit, or at mealtimes, or during other times that normally had a bit of a boundary around it when it came to technologies. Dr. Radesky 09:53 So technoference was a term developed by my co-author and collaborator Brandon McDaniel. He's a psychologist Who's that Parkview Research Center in Indiana. So, he gets the credit for that term. But he coined that term in trying to capture a research measure that's not just about how much is the parent using technology or how much is the child using technology, but what's happening with the relationship? And so, it became a questionnaire asking parents about on a typical day, you know, how many devices are you using when you're interacting with your child? Jen 10:27 Yeah. And so, what I found was myself, it was kind of thinking about technoference in terms of the relationship. And then I just wanted to find fubbing, it's this portmanteau of phone and snubbing stuck together. But I found the idea of the fubber and the fubbee to be useful to distinguish who's on which end of that relationship as well. Dr. Radesky 10:49 Yeah, and I think there's been some interesting ethnographic research where people have interviewed families to talk about how it feels when your spouse or partner is doing the fubbing, especially when it's just a high stress time in your household, or, you know, someone has to change a diaper, and all of a sudden your partner is absorbed in their phone. And so that, you know, negative connotation that comes with the term snubbing has even more layers, when it comes to parents who are taking care of a young child, which is just such, you know, has many different sources of stress in it to begin. Many different issues around co-parenting and role overload. And I'm interested in early childhood, mostly because it's such a time of building resilience. When kids are facing adversity, or stressful times, like a pandemic, secure relationships are a huge buffer to that stress, or are a way that kids make meaning of stressful times build emotion regulation, you know, so that's why I kind of put my interest in technology that started when I was in Seattle, you know, I was in Seattle in like 2007-2011, which is like, just the time that the iPhone and all these devices were coming out. And I was like, this is fascinating, you know, dynamics are changing so much in our hospital in our offices. Dr. Radesky 12:07 So, I took that with my interest in early childhood relationships. And that's where my first study in the fast-food restaurants came from because I was like, I just want to observe what's happening here. I don't want to come in with preconceived hypotheses or notions about this is bad, this is good. I want to observe, take field notes, like I'm an anthropologist, and just see the patterns of what's happening. And that study wound up getting so much press attention, because there was already this societal kind of concern. Like, every time there's new technologies introduced, the society gets a bit anxious, they feel uncomfortable, they feel disrupted. This has happened extremely rapidly, you know, the way that we've adopted these new technologies is so much faster than the way radio or telephones were adopted. So I was a fellow at the time and getting interviewed, you know, by like The Today Show or Al Jazeera America, and I was like, wow, people are really concerned about this, I need to be aware of the fact that this is a hot topic that's going to polarize that's going to kind of have some implicit judgement in it, too. And that's where my research, you know, on this topic started. Jen 13:16 Okay. So I wonder if we can go into that a little bit, then because I think a lot of the research that had been conducted to that point on fubbing, as it was known until then, was sort of done by asking people, how much do you use your phone? And then the fubbee, how much does it annoy you when somebody uses your phone, when they use their phone in front of you? And your methodology, it was the first time I'd seen it in the literature in this, you know, to be used in this way. And it's been replicated a whole bunch of times in different environments since then. So, can you tell us what did you do? And then what did you see when you're sitting in these restaurants? Dr. Radesky 13:50 Yeah. And it took me a while to land on this study design, actually. So, we thought about creating a survey. And that's what a lot of the fubbing research had been on but I was really worried that a survey would have too much what we call social desirability bias in research, and I also knew that the way that we interact with phones is more intermittent or immersive. I knew there was that cultural overlay of judgement of parents about it. So, I didn't want to, you know, create a survey that could possibly be biased, I wanted objective data. So, objective meaning you can kind of observe it and count it and see what's happening without the parent being self-conscious that they're being judged. Dr. Radesky 14:35 So, we decided on public observations, this has been done to look at how parents discipline their kids in public. It's been done to look at how, you know, people interact with public spaces. And it's considered ethical because we didn't collect any identifiable data. We didn't write down any child names, but the participants didn't know we were watching. It's you know, it's called nonparticipant observation because you go and you blend in with the surroundings. So myself and two research assistants just went to all these fast-food restaurants in Boston, in the spring and summer of 2013. I was like pregnant as can be with my second son. And we were taking field notes. So, we would bring a laptop and some books and act like we were just, you know, drinking an iced coffee and taking field notes. Dr. Radesky 15:24 We tried to go to sampled around different neighborhoods in Boston that had higher income, lower income, you know, Panera to Chipotle a to McDonald's. And we just took these long winded, continuous notes of like, 'Mom picks up phone, it's held about 10 inches from her face, you know, child is eating French fry.' So boring. But when we read these field notes over and over, we were just seeing patterns and themes of behavior that emerged. The biggest theme was absorption, we called it, which is a term that's been used before, but it was really this idea that the parents gaze and attention and it looked like a lot of their cognitive energy was on the phone, not on the child. We were looking a lot, not just for the negative, we were looking for times when parents and kids were sharing media and laughing over it, we saw that like four times, out of 55 families. We saw, you know, about a third of families who used phones were had this absorption where there was very little conversation. Kids would sometimes act up to get their attention. You know, we saw one child who tried to pull his mom's face up from her iPad, and she yelled at him and pushed him away, or another mom that kind of, you know, nudged her or kicked her kids under the table when they were, you know, acting up and trying to get her attention. Dr. Radesky 16:42 And none of this, we really didn't want to describe it in a way that made the parents sound like they're being bad parents, it was really like, this is a new phenomenon. Parents have never had their attentions, you know, spread in so many different directions. And I saw it as like, a hypothesis generating study, like, what’s going on here? How do we measure this? What is going on the phone that drags our attention in so much? You know, are there other underlying relationship variables or parent mental health variables that could be affecting the...