*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on PsychCentral.
Emerging research suggests that even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with child behavior problems.
The study was a snapshot review of the connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior. As such, a cause-and-effect relationship cannot be inferred although the results will fuel additional investigation.
Parents typically attribute child behavior — be it whining, tantrums, or acting out — to factors such as fatigue, hunger, or boredom. Researchers are now asking if such negative behaviors could be related to something else: parents spending too much time on their smartphones or tablets.
The small study from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University found that heavy digital technology use by parents could be associated with child behavior issues.
The findings appear in the online issue of the journal Child Development.
Researchers analyzed surveys completed separately by both mothers and fathers from 170 two-parent households.
Mothers and fathers were asked about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other technology — and how the devices disrupted family time.
Lead author Dr. Brandon T. McDaniel creatively describes the interruptions or disturbances as ‘’technoference,’ with disturbances being as simple as checking phone messages during mealtime, playtime, and routine activities or conversations with their children.
While more research is needed, the study suggests it might: Even low or seemingly normal amounts of tech-related interruption were associated with greater child behavior problems, 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 Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott.
“It’s also possible that parents of children with behavioral difficulties are more likely to withdraw or de-stress with technology during times with their child.”
But, she added, “We know that parents’ responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children.
“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.”
The study found that on average, mothers and fathers both perceived about two devices interfering in their interactions with their child at least once or more on a typical day. Mothers, however, seemed to perceive their phone use as more problematic than fathers did.
About half (48 percent) of parents reported technology interruptions three or more times on a typical day while 17 percent said it occurred once and 24 percent said it happened twice a day. Only 11 percent said no interruptions occurred.
Parents then rated child behavior issues within the past two months by answering questions about how often their children whined, sulked, easily got frustrated, had tantrums, or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.