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Health & Parenting

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When Smartphone Is Near, Parenting May Falter

Study found many caregivers focused on devices instead of children


The largest group -- 16 caregivers -- seemed totally absorbed by their phones, using them continuously, even eating and talking while looking at the phone. In most cases, it appeared the caregivers were using the phones' keyboards or making swiping motions on the phones rather than making phone calls.

Another nine caregivers used their devices intermittently, and then put the phone away. The researchers said these caregivers appeared to balance use of the device and paying attention to the child or children.

While the adults used their phones, some school-aged children were busy eating, talking to another child or playing with the toy that came with their meal, and didn't seem concerned that the caregiver was on a device, especially if it was for a short period of time.

When caregivers were completely absorbed with their phones, some children just seemed to accept it. However, many other children started acting up in an attempt to garner the caregivers' attention.

Some of these caregivers appeared to ignore the child's behavior for a bit and then scolded them, sometimes without even looking up from the phone.

"Children are going to get X amount of your attention every day. Your best bet is to give that attention in a positive way, or they may start to seek it in a negative way," said Briggs.

This is an emerging and important field of study, she added. "We're just learning how to think about exposure to media in small children, and now parents are being distracted by their phones. We can't turn a blind eye to this present absence," she said.

Radesky and Briggs agreed that smartphone use isn't all bad. Sharing apps and games with kids can be a way to connect. And smartphones certainly won't be going away anytime soon.

"They're an essential tool. What we need to do is help build guidelines for the healthiest ways to use them," said Radesky. "It's important for parents to have 'off' time where they tune in only to their child."

Briggs supports a balanced approach. "My take on tech use for parents and children is everything in moderation," she said.

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