Want To Be A Good Parent? Put Down Your Cellphone

The prevalence of smartphones may be obvious — you can hardly go a half-minute in public without seeing someone's face buried in one — but perhaps less obvious is how these increasingly important devices affect how we raise our kids.

A new study sheds some light on the smartphone behavior of caregivers, and it isn't pretty. Researchers observed 55 caregivers during meals at various restaurants in the Boston area, and 40 of them whipped out a device, which distracted them in varying degrees from the children in their care.

Intuitively, you may imagine that this is not the best way to care for a child; while distractions are always a battle for caregivers, willfully engaging an inanimate object rather than human beings demonstrates, on a basic and unscientific level, a lack of compassion, empathy, and responsibility.

But how did the children react? Some accepted their caregivers' distraction and entertained themselves, while others acted out. Here's NPR on the study:

[W]hen [lead researcher Dr. Jenny] Radesky looked at the patterns in what she and the other researchers observed, she found that kids with parents who were most absorbed in their devices were more likely to act out, in an effort to get their parents' attention. She recalls one group of three boys and their father: The father was on his cellphone, and the boys were singing a song repetitively and acting silly. When the boys got too loud, the father looked up from his phone and shouted at them to stop. But that only made the boys sing louder and act sillier.

While the study used anthropological observational methods, and was not designed to draw conclusions about the mechanisms and results of caregiver cellphone use, it is rather effective in helping us "understand how adults balance attention and engagement between a ubiquitous technology and the children in their care."

Even without any strong conclusions, it's probably safe to say that putting down your phone and being more present (especially when kids are around) is never a bad thing!

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