Children of parents that spend too much time on their smartphones are more likely to have behavioural problems later on, according to a new study out of the University of Michigan and Illinois State University that surveyed almost 200 families.
Of parents who participated in the study, 40 per cent of mothers and 32 per cent of fathers admitted to some form of phone addiction – including feeling the constant urge to check messages, thinking about incoming calls or texts frequently, or feeling that they used their phones too much in general.
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The researchers dubbed the phenomenon “technoference” in parent’s relationships with their children, meaning that everyday interactions were interrupted by mobile or digital devices.
Furthermore, over the six months that the study was conducted, almost a quarter reported that “technoference” happened twice per day, and 17 per cent reported that it happened at least once per day.
“You go around Manchester and Salford and see unbelievable attempts by children to communicate with the adult they are with but who is oblivious to them because they have headphones on. I find it very distressing,” Michelle Morris, one of Britain’s leading speech and language therapists and a consultant at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, told the Telegraph.
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Poor behaviour in the children was largely associated with the smartphone addictions of their parents, and even more strongly associated with the mother’s smartphone use than the father’s.
The more often parents reported experiencing technoference, the more they encountered behavioural issues with their kids.
In May 2017, a preceding, cross-sectional, study on the concept of technoference that included almost 300 families was conducted by the University of Michigan and Illinois State University.
According to a post by the U.K.’s National Health Service on the research, mothers’ phone addictions found to be linked to behavioural problems in children, whereas the fathers’ smartphone use did not demonstrate as strong a link to bad behaviour.
“Perceived technoference in mother-child interactions was linked to child behavioural problems – both externalizing and internalising behaviour – as rated by mothers and fathers. However, perceived technoference in father-child interactions was not linked to behavioural issues,” stated the NHS.
Recently, Manchester became the first public health authority in the U.K. to launch a campaign against the impacts of digital addiction on the communication between parents and children.
According to the Telegraph, the campaign will include texts to parents suggesting times during which they could put their smartphones away to talk with their children, including during bath time, meal time and before bed.
“The attempt to communicate goes unrewarded and the child could, in time, learn that there’s no point in talking. For little children, it is these multiple interactions with an adult through which it learns language and how to speak,” Morris continued.
In 2017, when the preceding study was published, researcher Dr. Jenny Radesky told Science Daily that parents’ respond differently to their children when they’re using mobile technology.
“Their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children,” she said.
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“It’s really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time.”