Smartphones could harm parent-child bonds, study suggests
The advent of smartphones has meant that we’re seeing a whole generation of parents raising children in a digital age. But while the scenario of parents sat round the dinner table cradling their phones has become the norm in many a household, a new study suggests that smartphones could be affecting parents’ relationship with their kids in a pretty negative way.
According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the use of smartphones distracts parents and prevents them from “cultivating feelings of connection”.
In the first study, the team, led by Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia, randomly assigned 200 parents into two groups at a trip to Science World in Vancouver, Canada. The first group were told to use their phones as much as possible, while the other group was told to use it as little as possible. After the trip, the participants were told to fill out a questionnaire and score how they felt on distractedness, social connectedness and emotional wellbeing.
Unsurprisingly, the group of parents who used their phones as much as possible were more distracted and felt less socially connected than the group of parents who were told to use their phones less.
In a second study, the researchers asked 292 parents to keep a diary about their smartphone use over a one-week period and complete a survey at the end of each day. The parents scaled how connected to their children they felt, what they had been doing at the time, who they were with and how they felt.
Just like the first study, the researchers found that using your smartphone reduced parents’ attention when they were with their children, “compromising attention quality”.
“The key message is that, as enticing and as useful as they might be, smartphones can make spending time with your children feel less meaningful than it would otherwise be,” Kushlev told PsyPost. “Critically, however, our study shows that how much you use your phone matters: Using it a lot while you are with your children would take away more from your experience than using it only a little bit (e.g. to quickly respond to a message rather than lose yourself in your Facebook feed).”
This isn’t the first study to investigate the effect of parents’ smartphones use on their relationship with their children. Back in 2015, David Hill, chairman of the American Association of Paediatrics, spoke with NPR about the organisation’s recent study on parent-child relationships and smartphone use. He advised parents demonstrate “mindfulness in front of children by putting down [their] phone during meals or whenever they need [their] attention.”
While it seems obvious that smartphones make us more distracted – have you ever looked up from your phone and found someone looking expectedly for a response to something you didn’t here? – this study should give parents an extra nudge to put the phone down, or risk missing out on many precious bonding moments.