Parents’ use of smartphones may be a reason for conflicts, negative interactions and tensions with their children, according to a small study published Wednesday. The results also showed that reading work-related emails or bad news at home affected their behavior with children.
The study was conducted by University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center on 35 caregivers that included mothers, fathers and grandmothers. Researchers conducted interviews with them and found that the participants often complained about multitasking smartphone use, work and children, affecting their family routines such as meal time.
Furthermore, the findings showed that adults would get overwhelmed after reading bad news or seeing work-related emails, to an extent that their response toward their children would be affected. Children also sought more attention when their parents were engrossed in their smartphones. This, the study found, led to negative communications such as yelling or retorting at children.
“Parents are constantly feeling like they are in more than one place at once while parenting. They’re still ‘at work.’ They’re keeping up socially. All while trying to cook dinner and attend to their kids,” study lead author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said in a statement.
“It’s much harder to toggle between mom or dad brain and other aspects of life because the boundaries have all blurred together. We wanted to understand how this was affecting parents emotionally. We found that parents are struggling to balance family time and the desire to be present at home with technology-based expectations like responding to work and other demands,” Radesky said.
However, researchers also found that use of mobile technology was also “an escape” from the boredom and stress of parenting and other demands. Moreover, the participants said that such technology allowed them to work from home, have easier communication with distant family members and maintain peace in the house.
“You don’t have to be available to your children 100 percent of the time — in fact, it’s healthy for them to be independent. It’s also important for parents to feel relevant at work and other parts of their lives,” Radesky said. “However, we are seeing parents overloaded and exhausted from being pulled in so many different directions.”
“Compared to traditional distractions like books, mobile technology is described as much more commanding of attention that is unpredictable and requires a greater emotional investment. Kids require a lot of different types of thinking, so multitasking between them and technology can be emotionally and mentally draining,” according to Radesky.
The major limitation of the study is its size. Researchers said they are planning to examine the parental use of mobile tech further.
The study was published Wednesday in peer-reviewed Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.