Parenting and Smartphones Don’t Mix Well

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

If you’re a parent in today’s day in age, it’s almost impossible to get away from the appeal of your smartphone. With so many apps to discover, emails and texts to send at all hours of the day, and Facebook statuses to read, your smartphone is likely with you at all times. It’s very easy to get absorbed by what’s going on with your smartphone and if you do this regularly, a new study out of Boston Medical Center says that you may have more negative interactions with your children and that they may be made to feel like they’re trying to compete for attention.  The study offers a very realistic and sobering picture of how technology devices like smartphones are doing to the parent/child relationship. 

The study, conducted by Dr. Jenny Radesky and team at Boston Medical Center, sent undercover investigators to spot adult-child groups with more than one youngster at fast food restaurants. They looked at 55 groups and recorded the behavior of both the kids and adults, as well as how often the adults used their phones. Their results showed a pretty shocking discovery: parents are absorbed by their technology devices.One child reached over to try to lift his mother’s face while she looked down at a tablet, but was met with no response. Another mother kicked her child under the table in response to the child’s various attempts to get her attention while she sat absorbed with her phone. A father responded in an irritated voice to his children’s escalating efforts to tear him away from his device. While the study did not code or quantify the reactions, Radesky says that there were “a lot of instances where there was very little interaction, harsh interaction or negative interaction” between the adults and the children. (1) 

If this sounds like a familiar situation for you as a parent, you should consider changing a couple of things about how and when you use your phone. Establish a no-device rule in your house at certain times in the day, for example. Don’t use your phone while you’re eating dinner at the table, but instead focus on using that time as a time to connect and communicate with your spouse and children, with no interruptions from your phone or iPad.  Another idea is to not use your phone at bedtime or in your room at night, or set limits on how often you pick up and check your phone for messages each hour.  When your device begins replacing human interaction, there is a big problem – it won’t give kids the communication skills they need in order to thrive in school or other social situations, and they will be slow to learn how to engage with others and learn certain social cues. 


Park, Alice. “Don’t Text While Parenting – It Will Make You Cranky.” Time. March 10, 2014. Accessed March 13, 2015.