Cell Phone Use Hurts Parent-Child Bonding, New Study Says

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Source: “Technology Addiction Is Disrupting Parent-Child Bonding,” bellyitchblog.com, Aug. 25, 2013

Cell phones distract parents from important face-to-face time with their children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics.The article found that a large percentage of parents are absorbed in their cell phones during meal times, leading to poor behavior in their children. 

Researchers from the Boston Medical Center went undercover at 15 fast-food restaurants in the Boston area and observed 55 parents accompanied by one or more children. Observers wrote field notes describing all aspects of cell phone use and child and parent behavior during the meal.
Forty of the parents were on their phones at some point while dining with their children. Sixteen used their cell phones almost continuously throughout the meal, eating and talking while looking at their device or only putting it down briefly to eat or speak with their children. This pattern of use occurred across age groups, genders, and group sizes.

Parents who used non-calling functions such as texting, social networking, or playing a game, showed the
highest degree of absorptionbecause they were looking primarily at the device. Phone calls could be absorbing, according to the study authors, but parents “usually maintained some eye contact with children during these calls, which did not last through entire meals as texting or swiping could.”

According to Gene Beresin, MD, Executive Director of the Massachussetts General Hospital Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, mealtimes are “generally times when children make attachments. It’s not a time when one is typically working. When we eat, when we snuggle, when a parent puts a child to bed — these are important times when parent-child connectedness is important. It sends a message to the child to pay attention to each other, to establish some intimacy. The moral of the story is be observant. Be mindful. Be aware. Both in what you are doing and in what you are teaching your children.”

The study also looked at how children responded when their caregivers began to use their phones, and found that many began to test their parents’ limits in order gain attention. Parents often continued looking at their cell phones while answering questions or giving instructions to their children, delayed their responses, did not respond at all, or ignored their child’s behavior for a while, then reacted with a “scolding tone of voice, gave repeated instructions in a somewhat robotic manner, seemed insensitive to the child’s expressed needs, or used physical responses” such as kicking the child’s feet under the table or pushing the child’s hands away when trying to lift her mom’s face up from looking at her screen.


Ross Charles, “Parents on Smartphones Ignore their Kids, Study Finds,” abcnews.go.com, Mar. 10, 2014

Amy Graff, “Study: Smartphones Are Making Us Bad Parents,” blog.sfgate.com, Mar. 10, 2014

Alice Park, “Don’t Text While Parenting – It Will Make You Cranky,” time.com, Mar. 10, 2014

Jenny Radesky et. al., “Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants,” Pediatrics, Mar. 10, 2014