"Screens create conflicts in many families"

Psychologist Martin Forster will investigate what happens in families who skip using screens.

Portrait of Martin Forster
Martin Forster. Foto: Mia Carlsson

Why are you investigating this? 

"The first smart phone appeared in 2008 and ever since that date they have since more widely distributed among children. This has brought about a profound change in the everyday lives of children over the past ten years. They affect us under much of the waking hours of the day; they affect our sleep, the way we communicate, share information and our privacy. There are studies that show the immediate effects of surfing a while on social media, where we have been able to see a negative impact on how we feel and look at our bodies. But there are few or no studies that show how screens affect relationships in a family. We are going to investigate that.  

How is the study structured? 

"We have three groups. In one group, everyone in the family will be screen-free for two days, in another group the whole family will live screen-free for five days. All will be compared to a control group that continues to live as normal. No one will be assisted in refraining from using screens; instead, it is up the families themselves to resolve this. One of the things we will measure is how well we will succeed with this. We will also ask everyone in the family how they have experienced this experiment with putting screens aside.

A mother sitting at the computer with her daughter on her shoulders.
A new study examines how screen-free days affect family relationships. Photo: Getty Images

Are screens dangerous for children? 

"Actually, there is no answer to that question. As already mentioned, we have only lived with the current extensive use of screens and where mobile phones account of a major part for about ten years. This field of research is young and growing very rapidly; currently a lot of research about screens being carried out. However, as a psychologist in clinical practice, I often meet parents who describe how screens make contact within the family difficult. Screens also give rise to squabbles and conflicts in many families; they present a challenge for the parents. They can take up a tremendous amount of time, which can affect sleep and schoolwork and lead to less physical activity. This is not a good thing and it can affect health. However, if we are able to still manage these parts of our life, we do not currently have enough evidence to suggest that screens themselves are necessarily harmful. 

Text: Annika Lund, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap no 2/2021