Study Examines Patterns of Smartphone Use By Parents Around Children

Many a parent has turned to a smartphone or tablet during a restaurant outing with children. How does this mobile device use affect parent-child interactions? In a qualitative analysis, researchers sought to describe patterns of how caregivers and children use mobile devices around each other. In the study, “Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants,” published in the April 2014 Pediatrics (published online March 10), researchers observed 55 caregivers eating with 1 or more young children in fast food restaurants. The researchers wrote detailed field notes, describing how the caregivers used their mobile devices and how they interacted with the children. Researchers described how “absorbed” the caregiver was in the device, how children responded when caregivers used a device and how caregivers managed this behavior, and co-viewing or shared use of devices by caregivers and children.

Caregivers who used devices ranged from having the device on the table to almost constant absorption with the device throughout the meal. Some children accepted the lack of engagement and entertained themselves; others acted out in a bid for attention. The study raises several questions for future research, including what types of activity (eg, work, entertainment) on mobile devices are associated with the highest levels of caregiver absorption, and what are the long-term effects on child development from caregivers who frequently become absorbed with a device while spending time with their children.

From the journal Pediatrics.