Study: Parents on Smartphones Often Ignore Kids

During mealtime, mobile device use leads to negative interactions.

Posted Mar 12, 2014

A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that when parents are on their mobile devices, they often ignore their kids.

Boston Medical Center researchers went undercover spy-style at fast food restaurants observing parent-child interactions while parents were on their smartphones or mobile tablets.

Of the 55 families observed, 40 of them were engrossed in their mobile devices, according to the study. Close to a third of parents used their devices during the entire meal. Close to three quarters used their device at least once during the meal.

Some of the children in the study sat and ate silently, but the majority of kids were restless or acted up to pull their parents attention away from the mobile device. Some kids sang songs like “Jingle bells, Batman smells.” One child tried to lift his mother’s head up from the device, only to have his hands shoved away.

The essence of the study is that when on a smartphone or tablet, parents are ignoring their kids and having negative interactions with them.

So what should parents do? Give up mobile devices? Of course not, we don’t go back. The technology is useful, entertaining, alluring, and addictive.

At any given moment it might seem like a juicy tweet, a work email, or a Facebook friend is more interesting at mealtime than hearing about homework complaints or a new Dora the Explorer episode from your kids. However, when you piece it all together, a life spent bonding with a smartphone is going to be a lot emptier than a life spent bonding with children.

As a parent and former psychotherapist, I try to work around technology issues like this by designating certain times as undivided attention times. During meals if you feel like you must check the smartphone, let your kids know that you’re going to be doing this before and after the meal. Then put the device down.

Children grow up fast. When they do, parents will have more time to spend with their technological devices. If the bond parents formed with their children is weak and interrupted because of technology, they are going to be seeing a lot more of their smartphones as the connection with their kids will fade into the background.