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Technology interference in the parenting of young children: Implications for mothers’ perceptions of coparenting

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Abstract

Technology devices and their characteristics have become more pervasive and enticing. The use of these new devices is common, and interruptions due to these devices are likely. This study examines the frequency of technology interference in (a) coparenting relationships—the relationship between parents as they parent their children together—during early infancy/childhood and in (b) various parenting domains (bedtime, mealtime, etc.), as well as (c) associations between technology interference and perceptions of coparenting quality as reported by 203 married/cohabiting mothers. Many mothers perceived that technology interrupted coparenting interactions on occasion, especially during unstructured parenting such as playtime. Mothers rating more interference reported worse coparenting, relationship satisfaction, and depressive symptoms. Technology interference predicted coparenting even after controlling for relationship satisfaction and depressive symptoms. Technology interference likely decreases coordination between parents, leaving some mothers feeling frustrated. Parents may be advised to critically examine and potentially regulate technology use during family interactions.
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CITATION:
McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). Technology interference in the parenting of young
children: Implications for mothers perceptions of coparenting. The Social Science
Journal. doi: 10.1016/j.soscij.2016.04.010
Link to article online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0362331916300210
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 2
Technology Interference in the Parenting of Young Children:
Implications for Mothers Perceptions of Coparenting
Brandon T. McDaniel
Human Development and Family Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
Email: btmcdaniel.phd@gmail.com
Sarah M. Coyne
School of Family Life
Brigham Young University
*All correspondence should be sent to Brandon T. McDaniel, btmcdaniel.phd@gmail.com
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 3
Technology Interference in the Parenting of Young Children:
Implications for Mothers’ Perceptions of Coparenting
Abstract
Technology devices and their characteristics have become more pervasive and enticing. The use
of these new devices is common, and interruptions due to these devices are likely. This study
examines the frequency of technology interference in (a) coparenting relationshipsthe
relationship between parents as they parent their children togetherduring early
infancy/childhood and in (b) various parenting domains (bedtime, mealtime, etc.), as well as (c)
associations between technology interference and perceptions of coparenting quality as reported
by 203 married/cohabiting mothers. Many mothers perceived that technology interrupted
coparenting interactions on occasion, especially during unstructured parenting such as playtime.
Mothers rating more interference reported worse coparenting, relationship satisfaction, and
depressive symptoms. Technology interference predicted coparenting even after controlling for
relationship satisfaction and depressive symptoms. Technology interference likely decreases
coordination between parents, leaving some mothers feeling frustrated. Parents may be advised
to critically examine and potentially regulate technology use during family interactions.
Keywords: media use, smartphones, coparenting quality, parenting, couple relationships,
relationship quality
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 4
Technology Interference in the Parenting of Young Children:
Implications for Mothers Perceptions of Coparenting
Family life is now permeated with technology devices, with the majority of U.S. adults
owning cell phones, computers, tablets, and more (Anderson, 2015). With so many devices it is
likely that interference due to this technology will occur in family relationships. Prior research has
termed this "technoference" or "technology interference," which is defined as everyday intrusions or
interruptions (that are often brief) in couple or family interactions or time spent together due to
technology (McDaniel & Coyne, 2014). The current paper relates an exploratory study that examines
the frequency with which technology interference may occur in coparenting relationships and in
various parenting domains (e.g., bedtime, playtime, etc.) from mothers' perspectives. It also examines
how these interruptions may relate to mothers' perceptions of coparenting quality.
The Coparenting Relationship
The coparenting relationship consists of the way partners work together as parents,
supporting or undermining each other's parenting (Feinberg, 2003). It is a subsystem within the
family, and although the couple and coparenting subsystems are related the coparenting subsystem
deals primarily with parenting related issues (Feinberg, 2003). The quality of the coparenting
relationship in two-parent families can be measured in terms of individual parents' perceptions of the
coparenting relationship as well as observations of triadic interactions (i.e., mother, father, and child).
Furthermore, greater coparenting cooperation and support and lower undermining (both parent
reports and observations) in intact families with young infants and children predict greater marital
satisfaction and parenting quality (e.g., Margolin, Gordis, & John, 2001; Schoppe-Sullivan et al.,
2004), as well as child outcomes such as fewer externalizing and internalizing behaviors (for a
review, see Teubert & Pinquart, 2010). The influence of coparenting quality on child outcomes can
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 5
be direct through compromising the emotional security that children feel in regards to their parents
(e.g., Davies and Cummings, 1994) and indirect as coparenting quality spills over into individual
parenting behaviors and quality (e.g., Erel & Burman, 1995; Margolin et al., 2001). Therefore,
examining influences on coparenting relationships contributes in important ways to efforts to
enhance family and child well-being across the early developmental years.
Technology Use
Technology has become pervasive and sometimes invasive in family life. It is important to
study the influences of technology, especially mobile devices such as cell phones and smartphones,
as many individuals keep them on themselves at all times. This creates a unique “always-on”
environment (Middleton, 2007) or a state of “perpetual contact” with others (Katz & Aakhus, 2002)
that has only recently emerged. For example, about 90% of U.S. adults report that they have their
phone with them frequently and 76% state that they never or rarely turn their phone off (Rainie &
Zickhur, 2015). This environment presents adults, children, and families with new opportunities for
connection and growth (Kennedy & Wellman, 2007; Padilla-Walker, Coyne, & Fraser, 2012), but
also unique struggles that were not faced in the past. Indeed, many adults respond that they cannot
live without technology (such as cell phones, the internet, and Facebook) (Popkin, 2011; Rainie &
Keeter, 2006), and qualitative interviews reveal that many individuals experience discomfort when
they have to temporarily disconnect (i.e., turn their phone off for a period of time) (Jarvenpaa &
Lang, 2005). In other words, individuals are developing strong attachments to their technology that
did not necessarily exist in our society in the recent past. Carbonell, Oberst, and Beranuy (2013) state
that individuals’ relationships with their cell phones have become “much more intense” than users’
relationships ever were with their fixed-line telephones (p. 901). Due to these new features of mobile
technology and the potential struggles of adults to disconnect from these devices, it is important to
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examine technology in family relationships, such as coparenting relationships with young children.
Little is known about how the everyday use of these devices may impact the quality of parenting that
children receive. If the quality of coparenting, or the coordination between parents as they engage in
childrearing (Feinberg, 2003), is altered negatively by the presence of these ‘always on’ devices,
child development and well-being may also be negatively impacted.
The Potential for Technology Interference in Family Relationships
The use of technology plays many roles for parents. For example, some parents utilize social
networking sites and blogs in order to connect with family, which increases feelings of social support
and relationship satisfaction (Coyne et al., 2014; McDaniel, Coyne, & Holmes, 2012). Technology
can also be used in healthy ways during shared family time to strengthen relationships. For example,
watching TV and playing video games together as a family have been linked with greater feelings of
connection (Padilla-Walker et al., 2012). However, since technology is pervasive and potentially
intrusive, interactions with technology have the power to interrupt or interfere with parenting in small
ways at times. For example, some individuals speak of being pulled toward their technology and
experiencing difficulty resisting the urge to check their devices (Jarvenpaa & Lang, 2005; Middleton
& Cukier, 2006; Oulasvirta et al., 2012; Rainie & Keeter, 2006), perhaps even in parenting situations.
This can lead some to develop problematic mobile phone use behaviors, such as turning to their
phones when they feel down, being preoccupied with or feeling anxious about receiving a message
or email, feeling lost without their phone, or spending too much time on the phone (e.g., Bianchi &
Philips, 2005). Some have shown that problematic use is associated with later depression, even after
controlling for earlier mental health (Thomee et al., 2011). In a sense, these tools which connect us to
others can become a hindrance at times in everyday interactions (e.g., Oulasvirta et al., 2012; Turkle,
2012).
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A few studies have begun to examine how negative technology use may intrude in family
relationships. Studies find that the use of cell phones/smartphones blurs the boundaries between work
and home, leading to increased negative work-to-family spillover, negative mood, and lower
satisfaction with family life (e.g., Chelsey, 2005; Mazmanian et al., 2005). Others have looked at
problematic cell phone use or social networking use. Miller-Ott et al. (2012) found that when
partners were less satisfied with the way cell phones were used in their relationship they showed
lower relationship satisfaction. Coyne, Stockdale, Busby, Iverson, and Grant (2011) examined the
ways in which romantic couples use media, and although the focus of their study was not on
technology interference there was a single item that asked how frequently they connected with others
via technology while interacting with their romantic partner. This type of behavior was associated
with poorer relationship satisfaction. Finally, Elphinstron and Noller (2011) found that when
Facebook use became problematic (e.g., taking time away from others) relationship satisfaction
suffered. These processes would likely be similar within coparenting relationships.
Recently, researchers have begun to explicitly examine the everyday intrusions and
disruptions caused by technology (especially mobile devices) in relationships and the potential
effects of these interruptions on these relationships. In a recent Pew Research Center report, 89% of
cellphone owners stated that they used their phone in their most recent social activity with others
(Rainie & Zickhur, 2015), which indicates that interruptions due to mobile devices may be especially
common. Additionally, some have found as many as 79% have texted others while in face-to-face
conversations and 52% have texted someone else while on a date (Harrison, Bealing, & Salley,
2015). McDaniel and Coyne (2014) examined this “technoference” in romantic relationships in a
sample of 143 primarily married women and found that technology interruptions were commonly
reported by women in interactions with their romantic partners, such as during conversations,
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mealtimes, and couple leisure time. Additionally, more frequent “technoference” was related to
greater conflict over technology use, lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and
lower life satisfaction. Chambliss et al. (2015) examined device disruptions in a sample of 228
undergraduate students, including 98 males and 130 females, and found that 52% report that they are
often ignored in favor of cell phones and tablets by their female friends and 43% report being ignored
by their male friends. In addition, these researchers found that about 45% felt frequently annoyed by
the disruptions. Finally, Roberts and David (2016) extended all of this previous work in a sample of
145 men and women (55% female) and examined partner phubbingphone snubbing of a spouse or
significant other. They focused specifically on cellphones and found similar results to McDaniel and
Coyne (2014)i.e., that interruptions and interference due to cellphones related to greater conflict
over cellphone use which also then related to lower relationship satisfaction, lower life satisfaction,
and greater depression. Though these studies did not focus specifically on coparenting, their results
suggest that technology interference may negatively impact relationships and individuals’ mental
health. Accordingly, it is likely that these effects may extend to the coparenting context, and we seek
to expand upon this prior work to examine how frequently technology devices may interrupt or
intrude in parenting specifically.
Theoretical Background and Conceptual Model
We extend this prior work by examining technology interferenceor everyday intrusions or
interruptions due to technology devicesin coparenting relationships. In line with prior research
(e.g., McDaniel & Coyne, 2014), we expected that technology interference in coparenting
relationships would be related to lower well-being in relationships and at the individual level. For
coparenting to function at its best, parents must be able to coordinate and be in synchrony with one
another in their parenting of the child. Perceptions of how the coparenting relationship is functioning
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 9
may be negatively affected if a parent feels that the connection or synchrony between the parents has
been interrupted or in other words that the partner is not focused and present although they are
physically together (e.g., Leggett & Rossouw, 2014; Turkle, 2012). As explained by the
displacement hypothesis (e.g., Coyne et al., 2014), this time spent on the technology device or media
may displace and reduce the coparenting interactions that should or could be taking place in that
moment with the child and the other parent.
These displacements in the parenting domain due to technology may also cause conflict
between parents, whereas those who are better able to manage their technology use or use technology
in positive ways with family members likely will not experience increased conflict and will therefore
experience more satisfying and healthier family interactions. As we mentioned earlier, prior work has
documented a link between technology interruptions and greater relationship conflict over
technology, and researchers have reasoned that this conflict is at times due to sending the implicit
message that the technology device is more important in that moment than the partner or relationship
(e.g., McDaniel & Coyne, 2014). This conflict can further negatively influence relationship quality
and individual well-being such as depressive symptoms (e.g., Beach, Sandeen, & O’Leary, 1990;
Gottman & Levenson, 1992; Papp, Cummings, & Schermerhorn, 2004; Proulx, Helms, & Buehler,
2007). Thus, technology interruptions and intrusions can influence the quality of coparenting via
displacement and relationship conflict over the technology use, whereas better management of its use
and fewer technology interruptions should lead to higher quality family interactions.
The Current Study
The purpose of this exploratory study was to address three main questions. First, we
examined how often mothers perceived technology interference to occur within coparenting
interactions with their partner. Given that technology use, particularly forms that are easily accessible
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and portable, is common in families (Padilla-Walker et al., 2012), we expected the majority of
participants to experience at least some interruptions due to technology. The second aim of the study
was to examine how often mothers perceived technology interference in various parenting domains
(e.g., bedtime, playtime, etc.). As no studies have examined the frequency of technology interference
in different parenting domains, this aim was exploratory. Third, we examined whether technology
interference was related to lower coparenting quality, above and beyond relationship satisfaction
which has been shown to be the strongest predictor of coparenting quality in the literature (e.g.,
Schoppe-Sullivan et al., 2004) and parent depression which negatively alters the quality of
coparenting (e.g., McDaniel & Teti, 2012). Based on the displacement hypothesis and prior empirical
work (e.g., McDaniel & Coyne, 2014; Roberts & David, 2016), we expected increased technology
interference during coparenting experiences to be related to decreased relational well-being, marked
by lower coparenting quality and relationship satisfaction. We also hypothesized that technology
interference would continue to predict poorer quality coparenting even after controlling for effects of
relationship satisfaction and depression. Put another way, in families where technology intrusions are
less frequent family interactions will be healthier and coparenting quality should be better, as parents
are likely less distracted and more in sync with one another and their child.
Methods
Procedure & Participants
Participants, comprised of 213 mothers in heterosexual relationships who had a child age 3
years or younger, were recruited through emails and fliers posted in local community buildings.
Participants were directed to an online survey. This research was approved by the University
Institutional Review Board and conducted in accord with prevailing ethical principles. Only those
with complete data on the study variables were included in analyses, resulting in a sample of 203. On
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 11
average, mothers were 30.58 years old (SD = 5.34) and the child was 11.74 months old (SD = 9.71
months, Range = newborn to 36 months). All were married or cohabiting (92% married). Most had
only one child (70%), were Caucasian (86%) and had completed some college (84%). The average
household income was $72,900 (SD = $41,300). Many mothers had the following devices in their
homes: cell phone/smartphone (94%), television (90%), computer (91%), and tablet (62%).
Measures
Technology Interference. Participants responded to two sets of items regarding technology
interference: the Technology Interference in Coparenting Scale (TICS) and the Technology
Interference in Parenting Scale (TIPS). We adapted items off of a scale developed in McDaniel and
Coyne (2014) by simply changing the items from focusing on couple relationships to focusing
specifically on coparenting relationships. The four TICS items asked participants how frequently cell
phones/smartphones, television, computers/laptops, and iPads or other tablets get in the way of or
even interrupt interactions that they have when all three family members (mother, father, child) are
present. They rated their perceptions on a 6-point scale: 0 (Never), 1 (Rarely), 2 (Sometimes), 3
(Often), 4 (Very Often), 5 (All the time). Items were examined separately as well as combined into
an overall average technology interference in coparenting scale with higher scores representing more
frequent interference in coparenting interactions (Cronbach’s alpha = .70).
In the TIPS, participants responded to how frequently technology interferes with or interrupts
their own and their partner's parenting during 14 domains, such as bedtime, playtime, and mealtime
(for a list of all 14 domains see Table 1). Participants were asked to think only about times when
these domains happened and respond concerning how frequently technology interfered during these
instances of parenting. This wording eliminated how some domains likely happen more or less
frequently in various families and allowed us to compare the frequency of interference across
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domains. They rated their perceptions on a 5-point scale: 0 (Never), 1 (Rarely), 2 (Sometimes), 3
(Often), 4 (Very Often). Items were examined separately as well as combined into an average
technology interference in parenting scale with higher scores representing more frequent interference
in parenting domains (Cronbach’s alpha = .90).
Finally, as these two scales were strongly correlated (r = .61, p < .001), they were
standardized and then summed together to create an overall technology interference score. This
combined measure showed good internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = .91) and simplified the
analyses while showing relationships between variables very similar to using the individual scales
(see Table 2). As measured, technology interference could include interruptions due to technology
use by the mother, father, or both. These interruptions could be initiated by the individual or
prompted by the device itself (e.g., receiving a text, phone call, or notification).
Coparenting Quality. The short form of the Coparenting Relationship Scale (CRS;
Feinberg, Brown, & Kan, 2012) was used to assess mothers’ perceptions of coparenting relationship
quality. Mothers’ responded to 14 items which tap into various dimensions of coparenting quality,
including agreement, closeness, support and cooperation, competition and undermining, endorsement
of partner’s parenting, as well as how frequently their child is exposed to interparental conflict.
Mothers rated the degree to which each statement describes their parenting relationship with their
partner on a 7-point scale (e.g., "My partner undermines my parenting"; 0 = Not true of us, 6 = Very
true of us). An overall coparenting score was determined by reverse scoring negative items and
averaging all items. Feinberg and his colleagues (2012) demonstrated that no data quality is
sacrificed by using the short form. The average coparenting score (M = 4.97, SD = 0.83) and the
good internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = .87) in the current study are almost identical to those
found by Feinberg and his colleagues (2012).
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Relationship Satisfaction. A widely used relationship satisfaction measure, the Quality of
Marriage Index (QMI; Norton, 1983), was utilized to measure mothers’ relationship satisfaction. The
wording was changed to “partner” and to “relationship.” The first five items, such as “We have a
good relationship, ask participants to rate their agreement on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (Very
strongly disagree) to 7 (Very strongly agree). On the sixth item, participants rate their overall
relationship happiness on a 10-point scale ranging from 1 (Unhappy) to 10 (Perfectly happy). Items
were standardized and then averaged to produce an overall relationship satisfaction score; higher
scores indicate more satisfying relationships (Cronbach’s alpha = .97).
Depressive Symptoms. Participants completed the CES-D (Radloff, 1977), a valid and
widely used measure of depressive symptoms, where they were asked to rate how often they felt 20
different symptoms during the past week on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 (Rarely or none of the
timeless than 1 day) to 3 (Most or all of the time5 to 7 days). Items were summed to produce an
overall depression score with higher scores representing more symptoms (Cronbach’s alpha = .90).
Results
How often do mothers perceive technology interference in coparenting?
Overall, 96% of mothers reported interference by at least one device in their coparenting
relationship. Cell phones/smartphones were rated as interfering most often in perceived triadic,
coparenting interactions (M = 1.70, SD = 1.05; 58% of participants rated sometimes, often, very often,
or all the time on this item), followed by computers (M = 1.43, SD = 1.11; 49%), television (M =
1.38, SD = 1.02; 45%), and then tablets (M = 0.85, SD = 1.11; 28%). A repeated measures ANOVA
revealed that within mothers’ perceptions the frequency of interference depended on device
(F(3,200) = 30.54, p < .001) with Bonferonni-adjusted pairwise comparisons revealing that cell
phones/smartphones were rated as interfering more frequently than all other devices; tablets were
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 14
rated as interfering less frequently than all other devices (all comparisons p < .001)likely due to
fewer families owning tablets. There were no significant differences between the frequency of
interference from the other devices.
How often do mothers perceive technology interference in various parenting domains?
At least 20% of mothers or more rated technology as interfering sometimes or more often
during the following domains: playtime (M = 1.74, SD = 0.92; 65% of participants rated sometimes,
often, or very often on this item), spending time with child (M = 1.52, SD = 0.94; 53%),
conversations about parenting issues (M = 1.12, SD = 1.07; 36%), educational activities (M = 1.00,
SD = 0.86; 31%), mealtime (M = 0.92, SD = 0.89; 26%), bedtime (M = 0.87, SD = 1.02; 26%), and
discipline/limit setting (M = 0.69, SD = 0.88; 22%). A repeated measures ANOVA revealed that
within individual mothers the frequency of technology interference depended on the parenting
domain (F(13,190) = 31.28, p < .001) with Bonferonni-adjusted pairwise comparisons revealing that
technology interference occurred most frequently during playtime or free time spent with the child as
compared with all other parenting domains (all comparisons ps < .001). Descriptive information on
all domain items as well as exploratory significant differences can be found in Table 1.
Bivariate correlations between technology interference, well-being, and demographics
Bivariate correlations revealed significant correlations between technology interference and
well-being variables (see Table 2). Overall, those who rated themselves as experiencing more
technology interference in their coparenting also reported lower coparenting quality, lower
relationship satisfaction, and more depressive symptoms. Also, technology interference was more
frequent the older the child and less frequent the older the mother.
Does technology interference predict coparenting quality?
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A hierarchical linear regression model was conducted with mothers’ perceptions of
coparenting quality as the outcome. On the first step, covariates including household income,
mother’s education and age, child age, and number of children were entered. On the second step,
relationship satisfaction and depressive symptoms were entered. Then, overall technology
interference was entered on the third step. All variables (except for controls) were standardized prior
to being entered. The model and results can be seen in Table 3. The full model significantly predicted
coparenting quality, accounting for 54% of the variance (F(8, 194) = 28.80, p < .001, R2 = .54). As
we expected, relationship satisfaction was strongly related to coparenting quality (β = .59, p < .001).
Yet, even after accounting for strong predictors of coparenting quality, technology interference was
also a significant predictor and accounted for additional variance in mothers’ perceptions of
coparenting quality (β = -.20, p < .001). In other words, those mothers who rated more frequent
technology interference in coparenting also perceived lower coparenting quality.
Discussion
Many mothers perceived that technology interrupted their family’s coparenting interactions
(when mother, father, and child were all present). Indeed, more than 45% of our participants
perceived cell/smartphones, computers, or television as interfering in coparenting interactions
sometimes or more often, and the cell/smartphone was the device rated as interfering most
frequently; 58% rated this device as interfering sometimes or more often. Additionally, technology
interference appeared to be most common during unstructured parenting such as playtime.
Interestingly though, interference still occurred sometimes or more often in about one quarter of
families during educational activities, mealtimes, bedtimes, and discipline and limit setting.
Parent-child play is often seen as a particularly important time for parents to establish an
emotional connection with the child as well as for the child’s cognitive, physical, and social
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 16
development (Ginsburg, 2007). Therefore, it is troublingalthough not particularly surprising due to
the widespread use of mobile technology devices (Anderson, 2015)that devices were most often
seen interfering in this domain. There is some emerging work that suggests that parent distraction by
technology during parent-child interactions is associated with worse behavioral outcomes for
children (McDaniel & Radesky, under review; Radesky, Kistin, Zuckerman, et al., 2014). Future
work should continue to examine how technology interference and parent distraction by technology
influence the development of the parent-child relationship as well as child behavioral and emotional
well-being. For example, it is possible that the security of children’s attachments to their parents
could suffer if they experience parents who are less sensitive to their needs (i.e., less contingently and
appropriately responsive; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978) due to the parents’ distraction
by technology. Indeed, some research has found that parents are less likely to respond to their child’s
bids for attention when they are using a technology device than when they are distracted in some
other way (such as reading a newspaper or talking with another parent; Hiniker, Sobel, Suh, Sung,
Lee, & Kientz, 2015).
Future work should also examine parents’ feelings concerning their technology use in various
parenting domains and whether play is perceived as less important than more task-oriented domains
and therefore more permissible for technology use and interference. Some initial work suggests that
parents and caregivers often turn to their phones due to boredom during time with their child on
playgrounds, and about 28% of these parents and caregivers believed that as long as their child is
“safe and occupied” than adult phone use is appropriate (Hiniker et al., 2015). Due to the important
nature of parent-child play (Ginsburg, 2007), if parents view playtime as a time in which technology
use is appropriate then interventions may need to be designed around changing these opinions or at
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 17
the very least helping parents to sufficiently limit their use during parent-child interactions such that
parent-child play and relationships do not suffer.
As expected, technology interruptions were significantly related to worse maternal well-
being as evidenced by lower coparenting quality, lower relationship satisfaction, and higher
depressive symptoms. This coincides with prior research that has found that greater technology
interference is connected to lower relationship satisfaction and greater depressive symptoms
(McDaniel & Coyne, 2014; Roberts & David, 2016) and that problematic use of cell phones or social
networking sites is connected to lower relationship quality (Elphinstron & Noller, 2011; Miller-Ott et
al., 2012). Even more powerful though is that technology interference continued to predict a
significant proportion of the variance in mothers’ ratings of coparenting quality when relationship
satisfaction and depressive symptoms were controlled. This is particularly poignant as relationship
satisfaction is one of the strongest predictors of coparenting quality in prior work (e.g., Schoppe-
Sullivan et al., 2004) and relationship satisfaction and coparenting quality were also strongly
connected in this study (r = .69, p < .001). This suggests that mothers’ perceptions of technology
interference are an important predictor of their feelings about the coparenting relationship.
This finding can be applied to the displacement hypothesis (e.g., Coyne et al., 2014). When
parents allow their use of technology to displace or interfere in their parenting of their child with their
partner, this negatively influences how they feel about the quality of coparenting. It is likely that
technology interference decreases the coordination and synchrony between family members during
coparenting interactions and may sometimes send a signal that the technology device is more
important than the family interaction, leaving mothers to sometimes feel some resentment or
frustration with their partner. This could also potentially lead to conflict between partners during or
after these interrupted coparenting interactions. Prior work has indeed shown that greater technology
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 18
interference is related to greater conflict over technology (McDaniel & Coyne, 2014; also see
Roberts & David, 2016).
Finally, it should be noted that there were many mothers who rated that technology did not
often interfere in their interactions with their child. This is encouraging to us as our results suggest
that these mothers rated higher quality coparenting relationships and better personal well-being (as
would be expected in our conceptual model). We do not wish for technology to be viewed negatively
in and of itself simply because some individuals experience problems negotiating its use. It is
possible to integrate technology use in healthy ways into family life. For example, watching TV and
playing video games together as a family have been associated with increased connection between
parents and children (Padilla-Walker et al., 2012). Additionally, shared leisure time in couple
relationships has been linked with greater relationship quality (Johnson, Zabriskie, & Hill, 2006),
which implies that shared leisure time in which both partners are engaged in the technology use
together can likely lead to positive outcomes. However, it is also important to note that
approximately 6 in 10 mothers rated cell/smartphones as interfering in their interactions with their
child sometimes or more often. This is still a sizeable proportion of mothers, which suggests that with
the increasing adoption of smartphone use in the U.S. (Anderson, 2015) this may be a problem that
continues to worsen unless measures are taken to assist families in integrating technology in positive
ways into family life.
Limitations and Future Directions
As the current data is self-reported it may very well be that interruptions due to technology
occurred and were simply not noticed or recalled by the mother, perhaps leading to underreporting.
As mobile technology use, such as smartphones, is becoming more and more the norm in our society
and family life (e.g., Anderson, 2015), it may very well be that individuals become less perceptive of
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 19
their own technology interruptions over timealthough this is a hypothesis and direction for future
research. Additionally, the fact that many mothers did not rate technology interruptions as frequently
occurring does not necessarily imply that these mothers have better integrated technology in healthy
ways into family interactions. We can only comment on how often technological interruptions were
perceived, and future work should examine whether those who do not rate frequent interruptions are
also better able to use technology in healthy and positive ways.
As this study was cross-sectional, causality cannot be assumed, though it is encouraging that
the results remained significant even after controlling for other strong predictors of coparenting
quality, including relationship satisfaction and depression. The study was also limited by respondents
being only mothers, many who were married and had attended some college. The current technology
interference scales (TIPS and TICS) used in this study also have no prior validity data. Thus, the
current results begin to add some validity to these measures asif the measures were functioning
properly and measuring the interference of technology in parenting and coparentingwe would
indeed expect reduced coparenting quality as a result. Future work could also validate these scales
against naturalistic observations of parents and children. Overall, this work is an important first step
in beginning to understand technology interference in parenting, and we plan to extend this work in
the future by taking a more dyadic approach to assessment and data analysis. For instance, it may be
that perceptions of coparenting by fathers are affected in different ways by technology interference.
This also begs the question of whether both partners view the same technology-related event (such as
the cell phone ringing) as an interruption or whether particular parents are more likely to view
technology as a distraction. At the very least, the current results suggest that many mothers perceive
interference in the coparenting relationship due to technology, especially cell/smartphones.
Conclusion and Practical Implications
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 20
Overall, this study is the first to examine technology interference in coparenting relationships
and provides a starting point for future research. We found that technology interference was fairly
common especially in regards to cell/smartphones, and though interference was often during
unstructured playtime, technology also interfered with formal parent-child interactions in some
families. Additionally, heightened technology interference was related to poorer coparenting quality.
As technology increasingly permeates our lives and interactions with others, parents may be well
advised to critically examine their own technology use when interacting with their spouse and/or
young infants/children.
It is important to note that lower coparenting and relational well-being were related to small
amounts of perceived technology interference, suggesting that even normative technology use may
affect mothers' views of their relationships. This implies that although technology can help couples
and children to connect (Coyne et al., 2011; Kennedy & Wellman, 2007; Padilla-Walker et al.,
2012), technology usewhen not directed toward connecting with their familymay also interfere
at times in their relationships. We agree with many of the ideas that have been espoused recently by
researchers on technology interference (e.g., McDaniel & Coyne, 2014). For example, some may
benefit from ‘technology use etiquette’ training, in which they could be taught best practices for
when devices should be put away, how to deal with phones when they beep in the middle of
conversations such that one’s partner feels cared for, and so forth. The setting of mutually agreed
upon rules to manage these devices during family time may also be beneficial. As technology use is
common, couple communication and parenting programs may need to explicitly integrate such
training into their programs in order to improve the quality of interactions between family members
and relationship health. Professionals may wish to speak to parents about how technology is being
used in their families. Providing specific training to parents and families on how to best control
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 21
technology use in family situations through setting mutually agreed upon rules and boundaries may
improve the quality of family interactions and maternal well-being.
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 22
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Table 1
The frequency of technology interference in various parenting domains as rated by mothers
Parenting Domain
M
SD
% Sometimes or
More Often
(a) Playtime
1.74 b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n
0.92
65%
(b) Spending time with child (NOT including
feeding, changing, or play)
1.52 a, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n
0.94
53%
(c) Conversations about parenting issues
1.12 a, b, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n
1.07
36%
(d) Educational activities (e.g., reading books)
1.00 a, b, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n
0.86
31%
(e) Mealtime
0.92 a, b, h, i, j, k, l, m, n
0.89
26%
(f) Bedtime
0.87 a, b, h, k, l, m, n
1.02
26%
(g) Discipline / Limit Setting
0.69 a, b, c, d, l, m, n
0.88
22%
(h) Getting child ready for day
0.57 a, b, c, d, e, f, n
0.80
15%
(i) Shopping trips
0.56 a, b, c, d, e, f, n
0.81
18%
(j) Naptime
0.54 a, b, c, d, e, f, n
0.77
13%
(k) Bathtime
0.47 a, b, c, d, e, f, n
0.77
13%
(l) Changing diapers
0.46 a, b, c, d, e, f, g
0.71
12%
(m) Dressing
0.41 a, b, c, d, e, f, g
0.70
10%
(n) Nighttime
0.25 a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l
0.57
4%
*N = 203. Superscripts (such as a) signify Bonferroni adjusted significant differences (p < .05) between the item and items labeled with that
letter.
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 29
Table 2
Summary of Intercorrelations, Means, and Standard Deviations for all Study Variables
2. Tech
interfere in
parenting
domains
3.
Combined
technology
interference
4.
Coparenting
5.
Relationship
satisfaction
6.
Depression
7. Income
8.
Education
9. Child
Age
(months)
10. Mother
age
11.
Number of
children
1. Tech interference in
coparenting
.61***
.90***
-.32***
-.21**
.25***
.06
.07
.14*
-.09
.08
2. Tech interference in
parenting domains
1
.90***
-.42***
-.34***
.31***
-.07
.00
.15*
-0.16*
0.15*
3. Combined technology
interference
1
-.41***
-.30***
.32***
-.01
.04
.16**
-.14*
.13
4. Coparenting
1
.69***
-.37***
.07
-.03
-.01
.05
-.04
5. Relationship satisfaction
1
-.30***
.12
-.01
-.02
.04
-0.05
6. Depression
1
-.23**
-0.07
.10
-.16*
.02
7. Income
1
.37***
.03
.45***
-.17*
8. Education
1
.00
.27***
.00
9. Child age (months)
1
.06
-.17*
10. Mother age
1
.01
11. Number of children
1
Mean
0.80
0.00
4.97
0.01
10.83
72.91
6.55
11.74
30.58
1.31
Standard Deviation
0.55
1.78
0.83
0.94
8.72
41.30
1.25
9.71
5.34
0.65
Note: ***p < .001, **p < .01, *p < .05, N = 203. Income is in 1,000's.
TECHNOLOGY INTERFERENCE IN COPARENTING 30
Table 3
Regression models for predicting coparenting quality by technology interference
Variable
B
SE(B)
β
ΔR2
Step 1: Control Variables
0.01
Income
0.00
0.001
-.01
Education
-0.01
0.04
-.02
Child age
0.01
0.004
.06
Mother age
0.00
0.01
-.01
Number of children
0.03
0.07
.02
Step 2: Well-being Variables
.50***
Relationship satisfaction
0.50
0.04
.59***
Depression
-0.11
0.05
-.13*
Step 3: Tech Interference
-0.17
0.05
-.20***
.03***
Note: ***p < .001, *p < .05, N = 203. Total F(8, 194) = 28.80, p < .001, R2 = .54
... Mobile device use is associated with a decrease in verbal and nonverbal interactions and encouragement [6]. The disruption in parent-child interaction due to technology has even been labeled "technoference" [7]. In one longitudinal study, parents' interrupted attention by their devices was associated with child externalizing behaviors and parenting stress [8]. ...
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This study examined the frequency of cellphone distraction during face-to-face encounters, comparing rates in men and women. It also assessed whether people report that expression of empathy suffers as a result of cellphone use. Individual differences in annoyance associated with others' attending to their mobile devices were also evaluated. Nearly a third of the young adults surveyed (30%) reported routinely being ignored by their significant other due to mobile device use; only 9% of respondents reported having never been ignored. Roughly half stated that female friends routinely ignore them; nearly as many male friends reportedly did the same. Nearly half (44%) of the respondents reported being bothered by this. About a third of participants admitted that they themselves routinely ignore others during face-to-face encounters due to cellphone use. Personality differences appeared to mediate reactions to cellphone relationship disruption. As expected, perspective-taking was associated with less ignoring of others. Self-esteem seemed to affect perceptions of others' distraction; those higher in self-esteem perceived less interference. Both low self-esteem and depression were associated with greater belief that mobile devices interfere with empathy and greater irritation with others' cellphone use.
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