If you had to explain why your child threw a temper tantrum, you might cite hunger, a missed nap, or not getting that second cookie. A group of researchers aren't so quick to point the finger, at least not at your kid. When children whine, act out, or throw a fit, researchers have reason to believe it's related to parents using their cell phones.
According to a new study from the University of Michigan that measured the interruptions to family time caused by digital devices, parents who spend a lot of time on their cell phones might be associated with children with greater behavioral problems.
"We know that parents' responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children," senior author Jenny Radesky said in an interview. "It's really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time."
This study is the first, however, to draw a correlation between cell phone use and negative attitudes in children themselves.
The team asked 170 US families how much they use certain devices and how often they interrupted a conversation or activity with their child, and they were then asked to rate their child's behavior — from whining and sulking to restlessness, hyperactivity, and full-blown meltdowns. They found that even low, "seemingly normative amounts" of technology-based interruptions were linked to greater behavioral problems.
Although, according to Radesky, "we can't assume a direct connection" without further evaluation, it's an indicator that even just a few stolen moments used to check a text message or post an Instagram image are enough to do damage.
The solution — to limit cell phone use when with your kids, or at the very least, set aside a few device-free hours throughout the day — is simple enough, but one many parents will likely struggle with.
Still, it's something worth remembering the next time you blame your kid for their tempter tantrum.