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Parents' Smartphones Interrupt Healthy Family Interactions: Kids Impacted by Technology

First Posted: Mar 10, 2014 01:05 PM EDT
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Boston Medical Center has conducted a study examining parents' mobile phone use while out at a restaurant eating with their children. The results suggest that the focus on cellular devices is inhibiting healthy family interactions with children.

Known as the first study to analyze how adults use their mobile phones and how their children react to this use, lead author Dr. Jenny Radesky concluded that the children either acted out, accepted the lack of attention and conversation, or entertained themselves.

There were five degrees of cell phone usage among the parents: those who never took the device out; those who placed it on the table but didn't use it; adults who had brief periods of use; continuous use at the end of a meal; and near constant use throughout the meal. About 73% of the adults in the study used their device at some point during the meal.

The researchers examined the participants in real-life settings, observing parents and children 10 and under in fast-food restaurants. The participants did not know they were being watched, as an observer was taking notes nearby. A majority of the parents seemed to be more involved with their phones than their children, the researchers noted.

"When we eat, when we snuggle, when a parent puts a child to bed - these are important times when parent-child connectedness is important," said Dr. Gene Beresin, the Executive Director of the MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, in this ABC News article. "It sends a message to the child to pay attention to each other, to establish some intimacy."

The use of mobile phones and other easily accessible technologies, such as iPads, can significantly affect healthy family relationships. These 'instantly accessible devices', as Dr. Radesky refers to them, are still difficult to measure usage of because they can be utilized in a variety of ways as opposed to say, television watching or radio listening.

Dr. Radesky believes it is important for parents to engage with their children during such familial interactions. In this Live Science article she lists ways for parents to further engage with their children in order to properly manage their time if they have a busy life.

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