Is Cellphone Distraction Weakening Your Parenting?
Public criticism regarding parental distraction by mobile devices is not new, fostered by concerns that such diverted attention could affect the child's safety or emotional health. Many studies have confirmed that texting and other phone distractions result in unsafe driving and unsafe pedestrian behavior. This is the first study to investigate the levels of caregiver distraction when mobile devices are used around children.
The study, Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants, published this March, sought to identify and measure parental mobile device distraction by anonymously observing caregivers eating with their young children in fast food restaurants. The research team, led by Boston Medical Center's Jenny S. Radesky, chose a public fast-food environment and mealtimes because 40 percent of American meals are eaten outside the home, the environment afforded unobtrusive observation, and because mealtimes are a common, face-toface caregiver/child point of interaction.
Researchers observed mobile device-wielding caregivers and then identified device "absorption," measured by the degree to which the parent's primary engagement was with the device rather than the child. The researchers also measured the usage frequency, duration and modality (phone calls versus typing or finger swiping), as well as the child's response to their caregiver's distracted mobile device use and caregiver responses to the child during device use. Finally, researchers also examined whether devices were viewed separately or "co-viewed" - shared screen time with the child.
Key observations from the study include:
- One in three parents observed used their mobile devices nearly continuously during the meals.
- Device activities such as texting or swiping that required the parent's focal focus heightened the parentchild disconnection, increasing the parent's degree of absorption.
- Children's reactions to the parent's distracted state ranged from going into a disconnected state (entertaining themselves) to making escalating bids for the parent's attention.
- When the parents were most distracted by their devices, their reactions to the child's bid for the parent's attention were more often harsh or even physical.
The study did not attempt to analyze potential long-term effects of such distraction from parent/child interaction.
Reacting to the Boston study, Sheila Gahagan of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said: "Parent-child interaction is instrumental in the child's language, cognitive and emotional development. In our developmentalbehavioral pediatric practice at UCSD, we often see parents who are very absorbed in their mobile devices. The device seems to be distracting the parent from interacting with their child."
Yet are mobile devices necessarily a negative force in parenting?
Gahagan, a trained developmental-behavioral pediatrician, added: "Mobile devices can be used to access educational materials for children and can provide a platform for social interaction between parent and child, such as watching a video together or playing a game together."
Related Topics: Discipline
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