Parents using mobile phones could make child behaviour worse: Study

Technoference is causing big problems for parents and their child's behaviour. Source: Pexels

If you’ve got an adult child who complains that their children are constantly bad-behaved or prone to throwing a tantrum or two, there could be a reason for it. New research has found parents who spend significant amounts of time of their phones, computers or digital devices during family time could actually be impacting their relationship with their children.

How many times have you been at a park or playground, only to notice a parent fixated on their mobile while their kid plays nearby? Or perhaps you’ve noticed your own family members checking their devices at the dinner table in front of their kids.

Known as “technoference” by researchers at the Illinois State University and the University of Michigan Medical School, this type of neglect could actually be what is causing kids to feel frustrated, to sulk, whinge, throw tantrums or even experience hyperactivity. The research, published in the Pediatric Research Journal, set out to analyse the role and impact digital devices can play when it comes to parenting and child behaviour.

The term technoference simply refers to a situation where face-to-face interactions are disrupted when someone becomes distracted by a technological device. It is thought modern parents are using smartphones, tablets, computers and watching television for up to nine hours a day – sometimes at the expense of their child’s attention. Because technology has become so portable in modern times, it’s easier than ever before for parents to become distracted – particularly at times that are important for children such as mealtimes, playtime and bedtimes.

Read more: Distracted parents ‘on phones’ linked to child drownings: Report

According to the research, these family times help shape a child’s emotional wellbeing and using a devise can limit conversations and make parents more hostile towards their kids when they’re craving attention.

For the study, 337 parents with kids aged five or younger were asked to answer questions based on how often devices interrupted their conversations. Next, parents were asked to rate their child’s internalising behaviour such as how often they sulked or how easily their feelings were hurt, as well as externalising behaviour including how angry or easily frustrated they were.

Parents were also asked to rate their own levels of stress and depression, the help they received from their partners and how often a child used devices. The results found that in almost all cases, at least one device impacted the relationship between parents and their kids during the day.

While technology may provide an escape for parents to cope with difficult child behaviour, it also found that it deprives parents of the chance to provide meaningful emotional support and positive feedback to their children. This can lead children to express more problematic behaviour, which can add to a parent’s stress levels.

“These results support the idea that relationships between parent technoference and child externalising behaviour are transactional and influence each other over time,” author Brandon T. McDaniel said in a statement. “In other words, parents who have children with more externalising problems become more stressed, which may lead to their greater withdrawal with technology, which in turn may contribute to more child externalising problems.”

What do you think? Has the rise of technology made modern parents worse than ones in the past? Is this behaviour something you’ve noticed?

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