New Study Examines Patterns of Smartphone use by Parents Around Children

parent feeding baby and using cell phoneWe’ve all seen it. A quiet family seated in the corner of restaurant for a meal. Parents engaged with their devices rather than with their children. This troubling and emerging trend of ‘distracted parenting’ has experts asking – how does this mobile device use affect parent-child interactions?

The American Academy of Pediatrics already advises pediatricians to discuss screen time with their patients and families– but that is typically in the context of the child using the screen. The broader conversation should address the screen time of the parents or caregiver as well.

In a study, researchers sought to describe patterns of how caregivers and children use mobile devices around each other. In the study, “Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants,” published in the April 2014 Pediatrics (published online March 10), researchers observed 55 caregivers eating with 1 or more young children in fast food restaurants. Researchers described how “absorbed” the caregiver was in the device, how children responded when caregivers used a device and how caregivers managed this behavior. Caregivers who used devices ranged from having the device on the table to almost constant absorption with the device throughout the meal. Some children accepted the lack of engagement and entertained themselves; others acted out in a bid for attention.

The study raises several questions for future research, including what are the long-term effects on child development from caregivers who frequently become absorbed with a device while spending time with their children.

Bottom line – if you have your eyes on a screen of any kind, there is less talk time and interaction, and over time, it can take a toll on fostering your child’s development. While we all love our screens and lead busy lives, there is a time, place and purpose to use them. Plan ahead and power down when engaging with your kids.

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