The role of digital technology use among families with infants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rebecca Hood, Juliana Zabatiero, Desiree Silva, Stephen Zubrick, Leon Straker

Background: COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020. Globally, countries have experienced varying degrees of infections and deaths that have occurred across multiple ‘waves’. A variety of restrictions have been adopted in response to these waves (e.g. periods of ‘lockdown’) aimed at minimising public health and economic impacts. These restrictions may have influenced how families interact, and therefore may have an important influence on child health and development.

Aims: This study explored how the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the use of smartphones and tablet computers among Western Australian families with infants.

Methods: Thirty mothers of infants (aged 9 to 15 months) were interviewed by audio or video call between July and September 2020.

Results: Almost two-thirds described an increase in the use of mobile touch screen devices, typically in relation to their own use of them. Two key themes related to smartphone and tablet computer use were found: maintaining connections (by enabling virtual communication with family and enabling activities to continue); and being a source of disrupted interactions within the immediate family unit.

Conclusions: The findings showed that smartphones and tablet computers were generally used in positive and helpful ways. The findings of this study will be of value in preparing useful information on how to maximise the benefits and minimise the downsides of family technology use during future pandemic-related situations.