Family, Kids & Relationships

Over Half of US Couples Say Technology Is a “Big Problem” In Their Family

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According to a new study, 48 percent of parents wish their partner spent less time on their phone and more time with the kids. And an even larger share, 62 percent of the parents surveyed, admit that technology use interferes with the quality of relationships in their family.

The research, conducted at Utah State University, surveyed 631 parents between the ages of 21 and 60, asking questions about couples’ relationships as well as parent-child relationships as they related to technology use. Researcher David Schramm, who is known as USU’s relationship expert “Dr. Dave,” said, “The overall survey results show that higher levels of technology use and technoference adds up to significantly less time spent together as a couple, less satisfaction and connection, and higher levels of depression and anxiety.”

“Technoference” is a term for when technology use interferes with face-to-face interactions and relationships. Six out of 10 of the parents surveyed are concerned about the impact of technology use on their relationship with their children. And smartphones are, of course, a major factor: 53 percent believe that they personally are on their phone too much, while 59 percent think their partner is on it too much. The vast majority of respondents said technology interferes with family time “at least occasionally.”

The good news is that most parents agree it’s smart to set limits. As part of the survey, Schramm introduced two hypothetical rules for families: K-TOOB (Kick Technology Out of Beds) and K-TOOT (Kick Technology Off of Tables). It turns out that 75 percent of the respondents think that K-TOOB is a good idea, and 88 percent agree that K-TOOT is a good idea. About 38 percent say they do use screens at least occasionally while eating at home with family, and more than a third use technology in bed every night or almost every night.

Other studies have examined parents’ and caregivers’ mobile phone use and how it may interfere with relationships with children. One pilot study found that parents of young children picked up their phones about 70 times a day, but that most of the parents underestimated how much they were using their phones. In another study, researchers observed that when kids tried to get the attention of parents who were absorbed in their phones, the kids were scolded, pushed away, or talked to in “a somewhat robotic manner.”

Suffice it to say, most parents (and spouses/partners) still have room for improvement when it comes to screen and media use. You can sign up on the USU Extension website for a free download of Schramm’s family “technoference” guide. It includes tips and resources for how to create a family media plan and agreement, how to create screen-free zones and times, and how to lead by example by being more mindful of your own technology use.


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Joanna Eng is a freelance writer and editor, Lambda Literary Fellow, and co-founder of Dandelions, a parenting and social justice newsletter. She lives with her wife and child in the New York City area, where she is constantly seeking out slivers of nature. You can find her on Twitter @joannamengland.