Devices, screens, apps, games, technology…your child and your relationship


It’s funny how the theme of technology and child parent relationships has been popping up in my personal and professional life this past while. Recently, on National Public Radio (NPR) USA, I was heard the term “Digital Natives” which describes the newest members of the human race.  A Kerry Primary School took the initiative in banning mobile phone use in and outside of school which I whole heartedly applaud. 

I gave several talks to parents on strengthening their relationships and referred to the greatest threat to child parent relationships in my professional opinion is the misuse of technology.  I was interviewed for a national newspaper regarding devices in the lives of families in Ireland. Daily in my practice I observe and support children play out their feelings some of which is linked to use/misuse of technology and feedback to their parents who in Facebook language are “In a relationship” with a developing child. It’s real, it’s here. Technology is part of our Parent Child relationship.

Do you remember planning your first trip away with your infant or young child?  You scouted out the location, what the weather is like, was it child friendly? You planned what to pack from travel cot to soothers, favourite treats and upon arrival child proofed your new environment.  You had expectations. You scouted out the pool, checked where the deep end is, what time life guards worked and followed house rules regarding eating and drinking by the poolside. You may even take a refresher First Aid course just to be safe.  You researched, planned, asked questions and hopefully experienced a healthy, safe and happy time.

Introducing technology requires similar planning. Yes, there are positive benefits of technology one of which is Face-timing grandparents and family overseas along with Skyping.  Research from Vanderbilt University, USA states that infants do learn from using such technology as there is social interaction from a person/video.  However, research on touch-screen apps “Isn’t clear yet”.  A dollop of child development never goes astray no matter what age or stage of development your child is in.

For example in my talks to Parents on Strengthening Your Relationship with Your Child (from time in-utero to teens) I always refer to attachment relationship theory and brain development.  Allan Schore researches brain development stating that 80% of our child’s brain development occurs from 20 weeks in-utero up to second year of life.  See video here

With this bite size nugget of information alone I observe parents realizing how super important it is to protect their child’s development (as a digital native on planet earth) in their use of technology within their Parent Child relationships.

Similarly with technology and our relationship with our children we need to visit the world of technology, scout it out, know what to expect to the best of our ability, give our children tools and skills to use technology wisely. Set limits and boundaries. Let’s empower our children to manage their use of technology and this can often be a deep dive!

Inventors of technology limit its use for their children. William founder of Twitter & Medium have books for their 2 young boys rather than iPads. Bill & Melinda Gates’ children were 14 years old before owning a phone. Bilton interviewing Steve Job’s shortly after the launch of the iPad asked how his children were enjoying the iPad? Jobs reply, “They haven’t used it”.

A few important links to plan our use of technology in our relationship with our children are which is an Irish site. They create explainer posts on their Facebook page explaining various apps AND areas parents might want to explore further. is another great resource for parents with excellent posts.  Perhaps think of this as a form of a First Aid tech course?

The obvious dangers from mis-use of technology are exposure to pornography, cyber bullying and developing an addiction to screens.  Other fallout may include little to no empathy, aggressive or violent play, blurring of fantasy and reality, lack of sleep and physical exercise.

John Sharry states use of a phone/device is a privilege not an entitlement.

Absolutely!  With this comes responsibility and consequences.  As a parent you need to trust that your child is using their phone/device in the boundaries you have agreed together.  This involves checking in.  You check if your child is brushing their teeth, you provide balanced nutritious lunches in school; you check their car seat is buckled. You check they wear a bike helmet and high vis when cycling and many of these are non-negotiable.  It is more than OK for you to check what apps and games are being used.  This is responsible and part of your role in your relationship with your child

 From this checking-in comes consequences and it takes time to follow through on consequences.  You will also need to think about what the consequence is. For example, if your child has chosen to stay on the device longer that your pre-agreed time, then you’d set the limit on this for your child and let them know that tomorrow’s time has been used up by your extra usage today. Your child will may feel annoyed and embarrassed at your checking in or setting of consequences.  Your child may also feel relieved, contained, physically safe, technologically safe and emotionally safe.  The message you are communicating to your child is that you SEE them, you are keeping them SAFE, you are strengthening and SECURING  your relationship with your child and your are there to SOOTHE them should your child need you too.

It’s all learning for your child just like learning to swim, ride a bike, and make a meal or learning to save money from weekly chores.

In this blog, I’m inviting you to have a think about;

  • When are you introducing a phone/device to your child? After Holy Communion, 6th class or ideally 2nd year which seems more possible with the mindset of “Takes a village to rear a child”. …like in Blennerville, Tralee, Co. Kerry)
  • Is your child paying for the phone or is it split? Who is paying monthly fee? How much is that fee? Who pays for repairs? Talk with your child about reason for phone, include words such as trust, responsible and how it’s a skill you are giving them.

Are you researching what apps you are agreeable for your child to use?  Install them, use them and then put yourself in your child’s shoes.

  • What limits you want to set for device usage for your child?
  • How are you teaching your child self-management?
  • How are you modelling your use of technology to your child?

 I recommend that you know what you are agreeable too and then sit down and discuss this with your child.

What if you wish to reduce device usage and set new expectations, structures and self management strategies around its use for your child?

  • Pull on above questions.
  • Name your feeling to your child why you are now making these choices regarding use of technology in your child parent relationship….” I’m worried right now that I have left you use your phone/device for too long. I made a mistake, I’m sorry.  I need to have a chat with you to let you know how we are going to make better choices in our use of technology/devices/screen”
  •  You need to know what you expect.  You are changing the goal posts.  Give your child time to hear, think and process what you are saying.
  •  Set a time frame for new way of using technology to begin
  • Be kind to yourself and your child as you claw back your relationship, any negative behaviours as a result of misuse of technology
  • In some cases, “withdrawal symptoms” can occur.

Re-igniting and re-connecting is part of our parent child relationship

  1. Re-introduce interests that your child is passionate about. For eg. sketch pads and pencils, tidy up your outdoor space, grow some plants, vegetables and flowers (even if in an apt) (model this in your own life too)
  2. Go out in nature, walk ground yourself with Mother Earth
  3. Join the library – it’s free for children and read those books
  4. Plan meals, make a meal together
  5. Buy a chiminea, lit fires outside in the nighttime, wrap up in blankets and look for shooting stars
  6. Make conversations
  7. Play with your child, get down on the floor, allow your child to lead this “Special Time”
  8. Risk being vulnerable with your child, speak honestly in an age appropriate way about addictions in your family unit
  9. Explain how your child’s brain and body is growing.  It’s super important that what we put in our bodies and brains allows us to be healthy and happy.
  10. If you are co-parenting it is crucial to know your expectations, limits and consequences around tech use in your family homes
  11. Be open to speaking with other parents explaining that “I/we have chosen that X isn’t going to use snapchat or x”

A sample of what I recommend at update meetings may include:

  • Ban devices at ALL family meals
  • Create an expectation to have all devices turned off 1-2 hours before bedtime for all family members
  • Consider unplugging the router at night
  • Charge all devices in one central location in the house
  • No devices in any bedroom
  • Set allocated time for tech usage with your child and adjust as your child’s develops and grows.  Teenage brain is fully developed at 24 years old.
  • Invest in discs that can be attached to your phone that may offer protection
  • Use screen reducers on your Android or IPhone

Enjoy technology in your relationship with your child/digital natives.  It is very doable!