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Technoference: Parent Mobile Device Use and Implications for Children and Parent–Child Relationships

Brandon T. McDaniel, Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Published on December 17, 2020

Abstract

The increase in the prevalence of smartphones and mobile devices has spurred changes in the caregiving environment of infants and young children, as phones and mobile devices are used at times during caregiving and in caregiving spaces. This use could create disruptions and cause distractions during parenting (termed technoference). This article summarizes the potential impacts on parent responsiveness and the experiences of infants and young children. Yet, it also warns that it is important to consider the reason for and type of parent use. Finally, the article ends with practical tips for working with parents concerning mobile device use.

The increase in the prevalence of smartphones and mobile screen devices has spurred changes in the caregiving environment of infants and young children. As of 2019, 96% of U.S. adults 18 to 29 years old owned a smartphone, and ownership was 92% among those 30 to 49 years (Pew Research Center, 2019). Moreover, 90% frequently carry their phone with them throughout the day (Rainie & Zickuhr, 2015). It is inevitable that devices will be present during caregiving times and in caregiving spaces. Simply as an illustration, here are a few statistics:

  • 73% of parents used a phone during mealtime with their child or children in a restaurant (Radesky et al., 2014).

  • 35% of caregivers were on their phone for 1 out of every 5 minutes (or sometimes more) during times they and their child were at the park (Hiniker et al., 2015).

  • 36% of parents reported spending too much time on their phone (Jiang, 2018).

This phone and mobile device use could create disruptions and cause distractions during parenting. These disruptions, distractions, and interruptions in face-to-face parent-child time have been termed technoference (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016a, 2016b; McDaniel & Radesky, 2018a, 2018b). For example, mothers reported technology interrupting their interactions with their infant or young child (3 years or younger; M = 11.74 months) at least sometimes in various parenting domains, such as 65% during playtime, 36% during book reading, 26% during mealtime, 26% during bedtime, and even 22% during discipline and limit setting (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016b). Phone use may be particularly prevalent during infant care, due to the sometimes monotonous and extended nature of the care tasks (e.g., feeding). Some studies on mothers of infants have found that 92% report using screens during daily infant feedings (Ventura & Teitelbaum, 2017), and 37% report often texting or using apps on a mobile device during infant feeding (Ventura et al., 2020).

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