You’ve picked up on something that has been attracting a growing amount of scientific attention. While much research has focused on the potentially addictive effects of smartphone use, at least one study has found that the time parents spend on them does appear to impact the behavior of their children.
A research team from the University of Michigan and Illinois State coined the term “technoference” to describe the effect of smartphone use (as well as other forms of digital technology) by parents, and determined that it is directly related to behavioral concerns in children. Jenny Radesky, a child behavior expert and pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and Brandon T. McDaniel, assistant professor at Illinois State University, asked parents from 170 U.S. families with young children (the average age was three) about their use of smartphones, laptops, tablets and other digital devices. They asked about how the use of these devices has affected the parents’ interaction with their kids at dinner, during conversations, playtime or other activities. The parents were also asked to rate their children’s behavior over the course of two months – specifically how often the kids whined, sulked, were irritable, easily frustrated or hyperactive.
All told, 48 percent of the parents reported three or more daily instances of “technoference,” while 24 percent said this happened twice a day and 17 percent reported only one instance daily. Only 11 percent said no technoference occurred. The researchers concluded, however, that even a small amount of this type of interruption leads to more problems in a child’s behavior, such as oversensitivity, irritability, hyperactivity and whining. They called for more studies that follow participants over a longer period of time.
Another study, published in April 2018, looked at the effects of smartphone use on 200 parents during a field trip with their kids to a science museum. The researchers randomly assigned the parents to use their phones either frequently or infrequently. They reported that frequent phone use resulted in parents feeling more distracted, which impaired social connection and compromised the significance parents derived from spending time with their children. In a second, weeklong diary study, the same research team surveyed 292 parents about smartphone use. They found further evidence that it can distract parents and undermine their feelings of connection with their children.
Researcher Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia said that parents who use their smartphones frequently when they’re together with their children probably have less positive parenting experiences.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Jenny S. Radesky and Brandon T. McDaniel, “Technoference: Parent Distraction With Technology and Associations With Child Behavior Problems.” Child Development, May 10, 2018 doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12822
Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth W. Dunn, “Smartphones distract parents from cultivating feelings of connection when spending time with their children.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, April 10, 2018, doi.org/10.1177/0265407518769387