By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Today’s digital world has given rise to a number of new terms. One that may not be that familiar is technoference. This is a term for a medical issue that is obvious to people. However, it is not often recognized.

Parents know that there are certain expectations for raising children. The obvious ones are to clothe them and feed them. Providing proper medical care is another obvious one.

Spending time with your child outside is important as well. That might be at the playground. It might be out eating. It might be just taking a walk through the neighborhood.

However, we have all observed someone who is out with their child spending time on their cell phone instead. That interference with the normal parent-child relationship is called technoference.

An interesting study observed parents at a playground. About one-third of the parents spent about one out of every five minutes looking at their phone instead of their child.

For example, you might be playing with your child. You get a text message. So you figure you can quickly answer it. However, once you are on the phone, you head to e-mail. You head to your Facebook page. That time is time not spent with your child.

Even the children have it figured out. They might be asking a distracted parent a question. When they don’t get an answer, they go over and cover the phone with their hand. It is a subtle message that the phone is taking their parent away.

We all get distracted by things from time to time. However, those tend to be brief accidental distractions. Cell phones are more intrusive. They tend to demand our instant attention.

Another study showed that there are real effects on children from these interruptions. They are more likely to be anxious. They are more likely to be depressed. Parent interaction interference has consequences.

There are clearly some actions that we need to take to prevent technoference from being a problem in child rearing. The first is that we need to recognize that it is a problem. It is like any other mental illness. Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step.

A second is to work on ways of preventing the phone from being something that comes between you and the child. When there is planned family time, it should be just that. The phone needs to be out of sight and out of mind.

A third is to ask yourself how important it is when the phone dings telling you that there is some kind of message. If it is not as important as time with the child, don’t bother with it.

Just like any other parenting approach, both parents must subscribe to the same approach. The child does not need mixed messages.

Since these things don’t change overnight, the goal should be small steps in the right direction. Each day should provide more quality time with the child than the last one did.

If you do it correctly, you can beat technoference. You might not even need to learn the meaning of the word.


For the last week the number of new cases has been between 25,000 and 39,000 with a one day spike to 50,000 being the exception. Those numbers continue to be lower than they had been. This is true despite Labor Day weekend and the opening of schools including colleges.

The lockdowns began about six months ago on March 13. We have just passed the six month point. It is likely that a vaccine will be available before another six months go by. Therefore, it looks like we have passed the halfway point to getting things back to less of a panic.

Italy had a major surge in COVID deaths early on in the course of the pandemic. In early May they were at 485 deaths per million. At that time the United States was at 214 deaths per million people. Over the course of time, they have slowed down their death rate. They now sit at 589 deaths per million. The US has just passed them. Our death rate now stands at 599 per million. The worldwide rate is at 119.1 million. We continue to remain at about five times as many deaths per million people as the rest of the world.

One of the things I have addressed before is the “sky is falling” approach of the national news media to some stories. A recent example of that refers to the reporting surrounding the Sturgis motorcycle rally in August in South Dakota. It was attended by about 460,000 people. News reports later called it a super spreader event. They suggested that the event was responsible for about 250,000 new cases of COVID. Since the rally, we have identified about 1,500,000 total cases in the entire United States. If 250,000 of those had come from the rally, it would mean that the rally was responsible for about one out of every six new cases across the entire country since that time. There is a possibility that it could be true. There is more of a probability that it is not the case. The number of new cases nationally has been pretty flat for the last few weeks. A true super spreader event would likely have shown an increase at least for a number of days after the event. That did not happen. That doesn’t mean that the event did not spread COVID. It just means that the numbers are likely much lower than reported.

The news last week included an item about one vaccine trial being stopped because a patient had become “ill”. There was a little more to it than that. The individual developed something called transverse myelitis. This is a relatively rare problem that occurs in less than one  in 125,000 individuals. We are not exactly sure of the cause in some cases. Actually, the most common cause is a complication in multiple sclerosis. It is an inflammation of the spinal cord. It basically affects the nerves coming out of the spinal cord at the point of the inflammation. It is often related to viral infections and possibly is related to immunization. Therefore, it could be related to the vaccine. It is also possible that the individual involved has early multiple sclerosis and this is the first symptom. The issue is that only a few thousand people have received the vaccine so far. If the incidence of transverse myelitis goes from one in 125,000 in the general population to one in a few thousand in vaccine recipients, that would make the vaccine an unacceptable risk. This vaccine is the one produced by AstraZeneca. They were predicting completion of the Phase III trial on Dec. 2. This will likely move that date back. It is one of the three U.S. companies that we are betting on in our gamble not to participate in the WHO Covax project.