Plugged-In Parenting: How Parental Smartphone Use May Affect Kids

by | Oct 13, 2016

Kids’ use of technology and the amount of screen time they experience has been a topic of interest for early childhood professionals for several years, but what about parents’ screen time and its effect on their children? Mobile technology and the ability to receive work email, texts, news alerts and other communication around the clock certainly has blurred the lines between work and home for many parents.

The University of Michigan and Boston Medical Center are looking into how plugged-in parents balance work and home, and what that means for their time traditionally reserved for family. Findings in a small qualitative study show that parents struggle to balance family time with expectations that they will respond to work or social demands during evenings or non-work hours, and that parents’ mobile technology use may contribute to negative interactions with their children.

Parents report multitasking between children and technology-based demands like work email can be mentally and emotionally draining, and sometimes lead to a negative trickle-down effect. Whatever they were reading on their mobile device sometimes affected their response to their children, for example. When using their mobile device, parents also reported attention-seeking behaviors from children, which resulted in negative interactions.    

The author of the study suggests three steps parents can take to balance their screen time with family time: set boundaries, filter or block your device to avoid temptation to use technology at certain times─she suggests two apps for that, and identify which tasks are most stressful when using mobile devices at home and reserve those activities for times when children are occupied.

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Watch a short video with the study's author, Dr. Jenny Radesky.

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