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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

How Does Parental Technology Use Affect Both Parents and Children?

It’s no secret that technology has become a constant presence in nearly every area of our lives – after all, unless you printed it out, you are reading this article on a screen. A recent small qualitative study, aimed at gaining a deeper insight into a trend, explored how parents’ technology use affects their children. The study found that parents face a new challenge in leaving work behind at the office when smart phones easily allow access to projects and emails at any time.

Lead author Jenny Radesky, a child behavior expert and pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s Children’s Hospital, worked in conjunction with colleagues from Boston Medical Center to explore the effects of habitual parental smart phone usage in the home. Researchers interviewed 35 mothers, father, and grandmothers who consistently expressed tension between time spent on cell phones and time spent with their children or grandchildren. “We are seeing parents overloaded and exhausted from being pulled in so many different directions,” Radesky says.

The study found that parental technology use often has a negative effect on children. Aside from interrupting meal times, the effect of whatever was viewed on the device transferred from parent to child: if a work email bearing bad news was read, consequentially the interaction between parent and child would be negative. Children in turn were more likely to act out for attention when a parent was absorbed in a device. Sometimes this led to a cycle: an act of defiance led to a sharp remark from a parent, which worsened the behavior of the child.

“Technology has transformed the way parents use digital media around their children,” Radesky says. Not only does it provide a distraction for the parent after a long day of work or caretaking, but parents also employ technological means to quiet or entertain a child both in public and in the home. Part of a related study done by Radesky and her team (referenced in the article above) found that mobile device use around children is associated with fewer interactions with the children.

In such a fast-paced world, multitasking has become the norm, presenting a daily challenge for parents who balance work with child-rearing. What takes priority? With parents stressed and children in need of their attention, it is clear that choosing quality time over screen time – while challenging – is better for everyone.

About the author

Caty Long is a first year Master of Theological Studies student at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and currently an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the USCCB.