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Parents' Smartphone Obsession May Affect Children's Behavior

26 May 2017, 10:01 pm EDT By Alexandra Lozovschi Tech Times
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Earlier this month, Tech Times reported smartphones and iPads may be responsible for speech delay in babies and toddlers. Now, a new study revealed further negative impacts of digital technology in child development.

This time, the emphasis is on parental use of mobile devices and how the adults' tech obsession can be harmful to their children.

'Technoference': Smartphone Use During Family Time

Parents' addiction to digital technology may be causing behavior problems in children, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and Illinois State University.

The scientists conducted a small study to investigate whether kids' tantrums may be attributed to heavy smartphone use on their parents' part.

While parents typically say their kids act out due to being bored, tired or hungry, the researchers uncovered children often misbehave because the adults may be spending too much time on their smartphones, iPads or tablets.

Parents who are too engrossed in their mobile devices often interrupt the time they spend with their kids — for instance, to check phone messages during conversations, meals, playtime or routine family activities.

Research lead author Brandon McDaniel, of Illinois State University, dubbed these interruptions "technoference."

How Often Are Parents Engrossed In Digital Technology

In the study, his team asked parents to complete questionnaires on how often they use smartphones, tablets, laptops and other technology, and how these mobile devices interfere with family time.

The survey involved 170 two-parent families, and the researchers asked mothers and fathers to complete the questionnaires separately.

The scientists tried to determine how problematic was the parents' use of mobile devices, by asking them to rate how often they worry about calls or texts, how difficult they find ignoring new messages and if they think phones are using up too much of their time.

Parents were also asked to specify how often phones, tablets, computers and other devices distracted them during activities with their children.

Nearly half the surveyed parents (48 percent) said technology diverts their attention away from their kids at least three times a day. About 24 percent responded mobile devices disturb their interactions with the children twice a day.

Fewer respondents — 17 percent — reported digital technology interrupts family time once a day, while just 11 percent said they keep away from smartphone, tablets, laptops, iPads and computers while spending time with their kids.

Interestingly enough, although both mothers and fathers acknowledged around two mobile devices invade their relationship with their children, mobile phone use was seen as problematic more by the mothers than the fathers.

Parental Mobile Device Use And Kids' Behavioral Problems

Next, parents were surveyed on how their children behaved in the past two months and asked to rate how often the kids whined, sulked, got frustrated easily, threw fits or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.

"This study investigates whether parental problematic technology use is associated with technology-based interruptions in parent-child interactions, termed 'technoference,' and whether technoference is associated with child behavior problems," wrote the authors in the abstract of their paper, published May 10 in the journal Child Development.

The researchers discovered that parents don't have to be glued to their smartphones for these behavioral problems to occur in their kids. The scientists found that even low or seemingly normal amounts of technoference caused child behavior issues, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity and whining.

"This was a cross-sectional study, so we can't assume a direct connection between parents' technology use and child behavior but these findings help us better understand the relationship," said senior author Dr. Jenny Radesky, child behavior expert and pediatrician from the University of Michigan.

Radesky admits there is also a possibility that parents of difficult children feel more inclined to use technology as a stress-reliever while spending time with their kids.

According to Radesky, parents become less responsive to their children while absorbed in digital technology, and this can lead to less-than-ideal interactions with the kids.

"It's really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time," she added.

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