Parents Addicted to Cell Phones 'More Negative' Toward Their Kids

By Bryan Le 03/11/14

Teens glued to their cell phones are bad enough, but a recent study found that cell phone-addicted parents are even worse.

Mommy's phone. Shutterstock

Parents like to complain about how their kids are glued to their smartphone screens, but it looks as though mom and dad are the ones who really need to kick the habit.

A new study from the Boston Medical Center found that grown-ups who can't seem to put down their phone are also more likely to snap and harshly scold their children's behavior, potentially damaging their parent-child bond.

Researchers watched parents with their kids at fast food restaurants and saw that one-third of parents were unable to put down their phones during their meals, while a staggering 73 percent of parents checked their phones at least once. They also noted that when the children attempted to interact with their parent while the parent was busy with a smartphone, the parent was likely to react negatively. One mother kicked her child under the table, while another completely ignored her child who was trying to force her head up from the phone. Researchers think the kids may have been acting out to illicit at least some kind of emotional attention from their parent.

"What stood out was that in a subset of caregivers using the device almost through the entire meal, how negative their interactions could become with the kids," said Dr. Jenny Radesky, a Boston pediatrician and lead author of the study. "[There were] a lot of instances where there was very little interaction, harsh interaction or negative interaction between the adults and children."

But it's not just parents who can't put down their phones; it's just about everyone. A British survey found that 66 percent of people are anxious at the thought of being separated from their cell phones, while a poll by Time magazine found that 84 percent of people failed to go an entire day without their phones, a good 20 percent of whom checked their phones every 10 minutes. One in five young adults can't even resist the temptation of checking their phones during sex.

Now we can add another negative effect to the list: hindering children's social and emotional development. "We know from decades of research that face-to-face interactions are important for cognitive, language and emotional development,” Radesky said. “Before mobile devices existed, mealtime would've been a time where we would've seen those interactions.”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter