Is it really that big of a deal to check the email that just came in while you’re playing with your child at the park? What about that quick text you’ve been meaning to send while you’re out with the family? Well, some research is showing this type of “fragmented parenting” may actually have a significant impact on your child(ren) well into their adolescent and adult years.
Smartphones and Fragmented Parenting
Our connectivity offers many advantages. However, as this article from PBS points out, it can also be incredibly disruptive, especially when parenting young children.
“For years, mobile devices have crept into people’s home life, giving employers and friends round-the-clock access during a time that would otherwise be family time,” says Jenny Radesky, a mother of two and a pediatrician who specializes in child development at Boston Medical Center. She also studies how mobile devices influence parenting today.
In a 2014 article published in the journal Pediatrics, she conducted an experiment that involved observing a small group of 55 caregivers with at least one child who appeared to be age 10 or younger during meals at fast food restaurants in Boston. (Note: The subjects didn’t know they were being observed.)
Forty caregivers pulled out their cellphones while kids munched away, and 16 were fixated on their devices for the entire meal. They rarely interacted with the kids.
Researchers also observed that caregivers absorbed in their mobile devices often lost their cool when kids at the table acted out in “escalating bids for attention.”
The Potential Consequences
Because this is a new issue for parents, the long term consequences are still unknown. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine are trying to gain a deeper understanding of this fragmented parenting trend and it’s effects on children. They recently shared some significant findings in their research with rodents.
According to this article from UC Irvine the study found ” that consistent rhythms and patterns of maternal care seem to be crucially important for the developing brain, which needs predictable and continuous stimuli to ensure the growth of robust neuron networks.”
The study also showed that the consequences of “erratic maternal care of infants can increase the likelihood of risky behaviors, drug seeking and depression in adolescence and adult life.”
With results like these, the UC Irvine team are now working with human mothers and their infants. As the head of the study Dr. Tallie Baran shares “Our work builds on many studies showing that maternal care is important for future emotional health. Importantly, it shows that it is not how much maternal care that influences adolescent behavior but the avoidance of fragmented and unpredictable care that is crucial. We might wish to turn off the mobile phone when caring for baby and be predictable and consistent.”
What Can You Do to Prevent Fragmented Parenting?
What can you do to be sure your Smartphone use is’t hindering quality time with your little one? Take a moment to honestly review the time you’ve spent with your children over the last few days. How much of it was disrupted by technology?
Next, make time to totally unplug with your family. Whether that’s a “no smartphones from 6pm – 8pm” policy, a weekend day without logging onto anything, or another solution that works for your family. You’ll all benefit from the uninterrupted time together, and, it will likely become a welcome break for everyone. Best of all, those texts, emails, posts and pictures will all be there waiting for you when you plug back in!
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