Young children’s behaviour affected by parents’ use of mobile devices

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New research has found that children are more likely to display challenging behaviour when their parents are distracted by digital devices such as smartphones and tablets.

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Almost half of parents in the study reported being distracted by devices at least three times a day

The US study of 170 families examined how often digital devices interrupt parent to child interactions – a phenomenon known as ‘technoference’, and whether this affects their child’s behaviour.

Almost half (48 per cent) of the parents in the study reported at least three daily incidents of technoference while engaged in an activity or conversation with their children, while a quarter said it happened about twice a day.

Parents then rated their child’s behaviour by answering questions about how often they 'whined, sulked, got frustrated, were oversensitive, restless or hyperactive and had hot tempers or temper tantrums'.

The researchers from the University of Michigan C.S Mott Children's Hospital and Illinois State University compared parents’ answers and found episodes of children’s challenging behaviour were more common among those parents who admitted to using digital devices while engaging with their children.

Even low levels of technoference, such as checking texts while talking to children, were associated with greater child behaviour problems - including 'oversensitivity, tempers, hyperactivity and whining'.

The authors go on to advise parents to set aside time to put away devices and focus all their attention on their children.

Senior author Jenny Radesky, a child behaviour expert and paediatrician at C.S Mott Children's Hospital, said, '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.

'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.'

She added, 'We know that parents’ responsiveness to their children 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 - 'Technoference: Parent Distraction with Technology and Associations with Child Behaviour Problems', is available here.
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