Technology distractions and child behavioral problems are intricately connected, according to a new study in the journal Child Development.
The study, “Technoference: Parent Distraction With Technology and Associations With Child Behavior Problems,” found that small daily intrusions by technology devices in the parent-child relationship were linked to anxiety, depression, hyperactivitym and disruptive behavior in children.
The study’s authors, Brandon T. McDaniel, an assistant professor at Illinois State University, and Jenny S. Radesky, a professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, note that previous studies have looked at technoference and its negative impact on family relationships, but their study is the first to show significant association between problematic technology use and child behavior.
“Parents should critically examine their device use and seek to minimize distractions and time spent on technology while interacting with young children,” McDaniel said. “Our new study suggests that even minor, everyday interruptions in parent-child interactions – even in fairly high functioning families – are intricately linked with child behavior.”
McDaniel gave a few examples: Your phone vibrates while playing with your child, you check it, then end up on Facebook, then Instagram and 10 minutes later realize your child has wandered off to play by herself. Your child repeats a question over and over, growing louder and more frustrated until you finally notice and look up from your phone, responding in an irritated tone. You ask your children to do something, pull out your phone to check it while you wait, get lost in a few emails and finally re-engage only to find your children have made a mess and not done what you asked.
Smartphones, more than other devices or physical distractions, are designed to grab and hold attention. They reward users for continued, uninterrupted attention more than books, magazines or even TVs. Research has found parents distracted by a phone are less likely to respond to their child than parents distracted by something else, according to the study.
“Distraction with a device could potentially influence every aspect of parenting quality, leading you to be less in sync with your child’s cues, to misinterpret your child’s needs, to respond more harshly than usual, and to respond much too long after the need arose,” said McDaniel.
On average, 40 percent of mothers and 32 percent of fathers in the study said they used technology in problematic ways.
McDaniel suggested parents develop strategies to stay present with children, for example “technology free zones” in the home or “technology free hours” every day. He also suggests asking the question “Can this wait until later?” before pulling out a phone while with young children.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)