Unplug & Recharge//

Parents’ Screen Time Linked to Behavioral Issues in Kids

New research makes a case for unplugging more around children.

Image courtesy of Getty Images / Bubbers13

If there was any doubt left that parents should limit phone use while around their kids, this should make a solid case: a growing body of research suggests that parental technology use can damage a child’s behavioral development.

While many parents worry about their children’s use of devices — with technology transforming what it means to be a teenager today and promoting unhappiness in young people — research shows that parents should be considering their own phone use around their kids as well.

“Even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with greater child behavior problems,” write the researchers of a small study out of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University. The research analyzed surveys completed by mothers and fathers in 170 two-parent households.

Although child behavior expert, pediatrician and senior study author Jenny Radesky, M.D., points out that due to the nature of the study, no direct connection can be drawn to behavior problems in children, which included oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity and whining, “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,” she writes, adding that “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.”

More recent research by Redesky and Brandon T. McDaniel of Illinois State University shows that parents “who spend a lot of time on their phones or watching television during family activities such as meals, playtime, and bedtime could influence their long-term relationships with their children.”

It may be tempting to turn to your phone or other device to block out a child’s non-ideal behavior, but the study found that this type of escape can actually backfire. The researchers call this “technoference” and suggest it can “lead children to show more frustration, hyperactivity, whining, sulking or tantrums.” The authors added that a child’s bad behavior might increase as they attempt to get their parents’ attention away from their devices.

Radesky acknowledges that there are many benefits to the use of mobile technology, explaining, “It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home… But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.” As with all good things, technology use around children is about moderation. Parents: as you work to limit your kid’s technology use, it’s a good idea to set some boundaries for yourself, too. 

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