A study of 170 US couples with a young child aged 1 to 5 years has found a link between use of digital technology by the parents and children’s behavior problems. This finding contributes to the debate about the need for “unplugged” family time, which is recommended by the US childcare programme, Zero to Three, and by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The sample of parents was mostly white (92%), married (95%) and university educated (73%), though income levels varied greatly.

Parents who feel they can’t resist their mobile devices and use them too much admit that this distracts them when interacting with their young child.

Mothers who reported that their use of mobile devices interrupted their interactions with their children—termed “technoference”—report more behaviour problems in their children, such as sulkiness, hyperactivity, bad temper and frustration. The fathers in these families also independently reported more behaviour problems in these children. These links even persisted when the researchers controlled for parent stress, depression, and coparenting.

There was no such correlation for fathers who reported mobile devices interrupting interactions with their children. A possible explanation for the difference is that fathers in this sample likely spent less time overall with their children (since 82% were employed ore than 30 hours per week, compared to 45% of mothers) – so perhaps their overuse of mobile devices had less impact on their children, although this needs further exploration.

This work suggests that parent technology use and child behavior are intricately connected, and parents should be mindful of their technology use around their young children—especially if this use begins to interrupt face-to-face interactions even in minor ways.

Header photo: Tina Leggio. Creative Commons.

References

McDaniel BT & Radesky JS (2017), Technoference: Parent distraction with technology and associations with child behavior problems, Child Development