It changed the rules on everything: families, mobile devices and COVID-19

It changed the rules on everything: families, mobile devices and COVID-19

by Freya Lucas

January 07, 2022

While families benefited from having extra time together during lockdowns, the mental health of some parents suffered greatly as a result of COVID-19, a new study has found. 

 

Specifically looking at the impact of mobile devices on family harmony, the research coming out of the Screen ORIGINS study, a sub-project of The ORIGINS Project, pinpointed that some families felt overwhelmed, isolated and uncertain about the future, and that mobile devices were a source of distraction that, at times, hampered family interactions.

 

Looking specifically at parents of infants aged 9 to 15 months, the study explored how the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 influenced family routines, relationships and use of technology such as smartphones and tablet computers, among families.

 

“Families described how spending more time together and doing more shared activities as a result of lockdowns brought them closer together and strengthened relationships,” Lead author and PhD candidate Ms Rebecca Hood said.

 

“Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets were found to be helpful for maintaining connections with family and friends who couldn’t visit due to restrictions and also for providing ideas for family activities.

 

“Families celebrated birthdays over video calls and sent photos to grandparents to keep their spirits up. Activities such as exercise classes went online, helping families to bond and spend time together while keeping physically active. Children chatted and played games online to stay connected with their friends.

 

The devices, however, were a source of distraction for some within the family unit, interrupting playtime and communication.

 

Research supervisor Dr Juliana Zabatiero said the research provided an opportunity to capitalise on the positive side effects of the pandemic, such as increased family connectedness, while managing the negative impacts.

 

“Overall, the findings indicate that access to devices has played a positive role in alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on families,” Dr Zabatiero said.

 

“It was clear from the findings that the ways in which families used their devices was important in whether this was beneficial or detrimental, rather than simply the amount of time they spent on screens.

 

“Being aware of the potential downsides of technology use in creating new habits and disrupting family interactions is likely to be of value for families in making wise technology use decisions during pandemic related restrictions,” she added.

 

Dr Zabatiero anticipates that the findings of the study will be useful for providing guidance for families, health professionals and government advisors on wise technology use decisions during future pandemic-related restrictions.

 

The full research paper, ‘“Coronavirus Changed the Rules on Everything”: Parent Perspectives on How the COVID-19 Pandemic Influenced Family Routines, Relationships and Technology Use in Families with Infants’, was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and can be found online here.

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