Parent Distraction with Phones 1
CITATION: McDaniel, B. T. (2019). Parent distraction with phones, reasons for use, and
impacts on parenting and child outcomes: A review of the emerging research. Human Behavior
and Emerging Technologies. doi: 10.1002/hbe2.139
The final publication is available at Wiley via https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/25781863
Parent Distraction with Phones, Reasons for Use, and Impacts on Parenting and Child
Outcomes: A Review of the Emerging Research
Brandon T. McDaniel
Illinois State University
*Corresponding Author: Dr. Brandon T. McDaniel, Campus Box 5060, Normal, IL 61790.
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The current article reviews the emerging research related to parent distraction with phones and
mobile devices. From this review, it is clear that parent distraction with phones and mobile
devices while around children has become common. This is concerning, as the evidence suggests
links with parenting and child outcomes—such as lower awareness and sensitivity, fewer verbal
and nonverbal interactions, less coordinated parenting and coparenting, dissatisfaction with time
spent together, and negative child reactions (e.g., problem behaviors). The issue is complex,
however, as many reasons may drive parents to use devices around children, such as strong
habits, device notifications, work/social pressures, parenting stress, and boredom or loneliness.
Ultimately, parenting is affected due to displacement of time with children, difficulty of
multitasking between device and child, and the emotions and stresses that can come from device
use. Research gaps are found and future directions are proposed. Most findings come from self-
reports or observations. More longitudinal and experimental work is needed to establish
causation. Furthermore, as parents and children are concerned about phone use during family
time, it is important for evidence-based programs to be developed to address healthy device
habits specifically during family time and social interactions.
Keywords: Technoference; phubbing; smartphone use; parenting; child behavior
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Parent Distraction with Phones, Reasons for Use, and Impacts on Parenting and Child
Outcomes: A Review of the Emerging Research
It is clear that family interactions are shaped by the technology present in the home.
Technology use is common in families—for example, American families have on average five
internet-connected devices in their home (Pew Research Center, 2017a). Although families can
bond over shared technology use (such as TV watching or video game playing; Padilla-Walker et
al., 2012), devices can also interrupt or intrude upon parent-child time. Indeed, some research
has shown that 73% of parents engaged in phone use during time spent with their children in a
restaurant (Radesky et al., 2014), 35% of caregivers spent 1 out of every 5 minutes (or more) on
their phone while at the park with their child (Hiniker et al., 2015), 65% of mothers reported
technology intruding upon parent-child interactions during playtime with their young child
(McDaniel & Coyne, 2016b), and some are concerned that the increase in child injuries may be
due to parent smartphone use as well (Palsson, 2014). None of this is surprising, as 92% of
American adults now own a cell or smartphone (Anderson, 2015), and 36% of American parents
say they spend too much time on their phone (Jiang, 2018). With the increase in phone
penetration rates, the ever-present nature of our devices, and the possible interruptions and
distractions occurring in relationships, it is quite possible that parent and child well-being may be
affected in significant ways. In fact, fears and opinions about parent distraction with phones
abound in the public domain (e.g., Christakis, 2018). Therefore, it becomes important for
researchers, clinicians, policy makers, and even parents to understand the reasons for device use
while around children and the potential impacts of this use on parents and children. Armed with
this knowledge, better informed and evidence-based programs and interventions can be designed
to address these potential problems.
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In the current article, I review the emerging research evidence related to the reasons
behind what could be termed problematic technology use in adults and parents and examine
parent and child feelings and outcomes in regards to this use. I organize the review into
answering four specific questions:
(1) Why do parents use phones while with children?
(2) How does this use impact parents and parenting quality?
(3) Why does phone use affect parenting quality?
(4) How does parent phone use impact children?
Through searching academic databases (e.g., PsycInfo, ERIC) and Google Scholar
through February 2019, I was able to identify 33 research articles, chapters, or conference
presentations or published proceedings that addressed parent distraction with mobile devices
and/or interruptions due to these devices in parent-child interactions. I mark these sources with
an asterisk (*) on the Reference page. Sources were included in the review if they included the
collection and/or analysis of data (i.e., review or summary articles or chapters were excluded)
and at least part of the data dealt with parent distraction with mobile devices or parent use of
mobile devices in the presence of their children or family. Sources also had to be in English.
Studies examining the following things were excluded, as they did not address the points
mentioned above: the frequency of parent and/or child phone or media use in general, using
mobile devices while driving, parent or family television use, parents’ perspectives on and
management of their children’s phone or media use, parents’ use of devices to regulate children’s
behavior or emotions, parents’ and children’s interactions with tablets or e-books, device use for
child learning, device use to assist children with disabilities or other needs, parents’ and
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children’s interactions via the Internet, interventions designed for parents or children utilizing
phones or mobile devices, and device use for distraction in medical settings.
Why Do Parents Use Phones While With Children?
To truly understand why parents may turn to phone use even during interactions with
their children, we must first understand the factors that may lead adults in general to phone use.
The cell or smartphone is a multifaceted, multipurpose device with many attractive features for
its users. To name a few, individuals can now (a) connect with others via calls, texts, or social
media, (b) check or respond to email messages, (c) work, (d) listen to music, (e) read, listen to, or
watch the news, (f) watch TV shows or movies, and much more. Just these examples illustrate
how our lives can quickly become entangled with our phone use, such that we begin to rely on
our phones for so much that they become an extension of ourselves (Belk, 2013; Campbell &
Park, 2008; Carbonell, Oberst, & Beranuy, 2013; Srivastava, 2005). Indeed, in interviews parents
have expressed how much of their lives are on their device and how emotionally connected they
are to the device, more so than other types of technology in the past (Radesky et al., 2016).
Many individuals experience anxiety over being without their phone (termed “nomophobia;”
King et al., 2013) and have trouble disconnecting (e.g., Cheever, Rosen, Carrier, & Chavez,
2014; Clayton, Leshner, & Almond, 2015), and 46% of American adults report that they could
not live without their phone (Pew Research Center, 2015). There are a variety of reasons
individuals may experience this anxiety, but one is a fear of missing out—i.e., “being out of
touch with…their extended social circles” (Przbylski, Murayama, DeHaan, & Gladwell, 2013, p.
1482). Individuals may also feel pressure to respond to work messages and notifications
(Harmon & Mazmanian, 2013; Mangan, Leavy, & Jancey, 2018). There are also simply all of the
everyday, normative beeps and buzzes produced by our phones which draw attention back to the
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device (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016a). Radesky et al.’s (2016) interviews with parents also reveal
many of these same concerns.
Not only do our phones become an integral part of our lives, but our phone use can
become an addiction, or at least a strong habit. For example, some estimate that the average user
checks their phone around 80 times per day (Asurion, 2018). Additionally, the beeps, buzzes,
notifications, and messages may lead to dopamine responses or changes in the brain similar to
that found in internet addiction (e.g., Liu & Luo, 2015; Wang et al., 2016; Zhu, Zhang, & Tian,
2015; see Brand, Young, & Laier, 2014 for a review). In a sense, individuals are intermittently
rewarded for their phone use, which may serve to further reinforce the behavior or create
cravings for use. Moreover, devices, apps, and games are often designed to be attention grabbing
and to get users to spend more time on the device (Eyal, 2014). Thus, the times in between
events, appointments, and various tasks of the day often become filled with phone use
(Dimmick, Feaster, & Hoplamazian, 2011; Kruger et al., 2018; Oulasvirta, Rattenbury, Ma, &
Raita, 2012), and individuals form strong habits drawing them to pick up the device many times
each day—even when the use is not necessary (e.g., Oulasvirta et al., 2012).
As individuals experience boredom or a lack of interest in the happenings around them,
they express that they utilize their phones to entertain themselves. Parents of young children are
not immune to this experience. Indeed, many tasks throughout the day such as feeding and play
can become monotonous over time—leading many parents to express they pick up their phones
during these times, with some even pretending to be busy on the device while around family
members (Golen & Ventura, 2015; Hiniker et al., 2015; Oduor et al., 2016; Radesky et al., 2016;
Radesky et al., 2018; Ventura & Teitelbaum, 2017).
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There is also a link between other negative emotional experiences such as loneliness and
depression and phone use. Human beings desire to feel connected to others and therefore at times
turn to phone use and Internet use, especially social media use, when they are feeling
disconnected or lonely (e.g., Kim, LaRose, & Peng, 2009; Takao, Takahashi, & Kitamura, 2009).
As one example, mothers of young children, especially first time mothers of infants, have been
shown to turn to social media and blogging in an attempt to connect with family, friends, and
others (Bartholomew, Schoppe-Sullivan, Glassman, Kamp Dush, & Sullivan, 2012; McDaniel,
Coyne, & Holmes, 2012). One mother expressed it like this, “If I’ve had a…long day with the
kids and it feels so insular…[the phone provides] the reward of…a life beyond this” (Radesky et
al., 2016, p. 697). This is also true of experiencing negative emotions such as depressive
symptoms. Work suggests that individuals turn to their phones to escape or regulate these
emotions. For example, recent survey results have linked maternal depressive symptoms
specifically to mothers’ greater problematic use of their phones (Newsham, Drouin, &
McDaniel, 2018). Unfortunately, using phones or social media can have the opposite of their
intended effect—making them feel worse after use (e.g., Sagioglou & Greitemeyer, 2014). This
is likely due to feelings of wasted time (Sagioglou & Greitmeyer, 2014) and social comparisons
that are inherently made with one’s social network on social media sites (Vogel, Rose, Roberts,
& Eckles, 2014)—many of whom are presenting their best selves. Mothers also make these
social comparisons on social media (Coyne, McDaniel, & Stockdale, 2017).
Parents, especially those with the primary care of young children (who are often mothers,
Kan, Sullivan, & Gershuny, 2011; Moreno-Colom, 2017), experience a variety of stressors
related to childrearing in the home. In interviews, parents express withdrawing to their devices at
times to escape the stresses they experience (Radesky et al., 2016), and mothers who feel their
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children are more difficult have also been found to be more likely to engage in phone use during
meal times (Radesky et al., 2018). Additionally, recent longitudinal work (over months) also
suggests that experiencing greater parenting stress may increase parental phone use in the
presence of the child which then exacerbates stressful child behavior, and the process likely
continues over time (McDaniel & Radesky, 2018b).
How Does This Use Impact Parents and Parenting?
Radesky et al. (2016) conducted in-depth interviews with 31 parents and 4 grandmothers,
and they consistently felt conflicted over their phone use while with their children—expressing
both positive and negative aspects of their use. For example, phones can provide them with many
benefits such as increased access to support, schools, doctors, information, and social networks;
emotional relief from boredom or the stresses of parenting; and perceived reductions in family
conflict as it can be low stress and more peaceful when children are using media. However, they
also report feeling overloaded by the amount of notifications and information, expectations for
and exhaustion over constant connection, finding it difficult to cognitively switch between what
they are doing on their phone and interactions they need to have at home, conflicting feelings
over using their phone as an escape, and recognizing that they (and often their family as well) are
happier if they put their phone away during time with their family. These interviews are
important as they give us a glimpse of the complexity of cognitions and emotions experienced by
parents surrounding their phones and phone use in their home.
There is work to suggest that parenting responsiveness and quality may suffer when
attention is divided between phones and children. Anecdotally, parents believe they are better at
focusing on their children when they intentionally put their phones away or do not use them
during family time (Blackwell, Gardiner, & Schoenebeck, 2016; Radesky et al., 2016), and on
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average adults rate phone use as less appropriate when a child is present than when no child is
present (Moser, Schoenebeck, & Reinecke, 2016). Experimental work also corroborates these
anecdotes. Kushlev and Dunn (2018) assigned parents spending time with their children at a
museum to either frequently use their phones or infrequently use their phones. Afterward,
parents in the frequent phone use group felt more distracted and experienced less connection and
sense of meaning out of their time spent with their children. Furthermore, observations have been
done at restaurants, playgrounds, doctor offices, and in the lab, and all of these observational
studies suggest very similar conclusions—i.e., parent phone use is associated with less verbal
interaction, lower parental responsiveness, and at times harsher parental responses (Abels et al.,
2018; Davidovitch et al., 2018; Hiniker et al., 2015; Kellershohn, Walley, West, & Vriesekoop,
2018; Radesky et al., 2014; Radesky et al., 2015; Reed, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2017).
Parental daily survey reports also suggest parents feel less connected to their children when their
time together involved parent phone use (Kushley & Dunn, 2018). Recent parent-report data also
suggests an association between greater parent difficulties with managing their phone use while
with their children and worse overall parenting quality—i.e., greater parenting laxness and
overreactivity (McDaniel, Everest, & White, 2018). It is interesting that adolescents also
corroborate these findings, perceiving their parents to be less warm with them as a result of
parent distraction with phones (Stockdale, Coyne, & Padilla-Walker, 2018).
Not only is distraction linked with parenting behaviors, but it is also linked with family
interactions and relationship quality. Researchers in the literature on technoference—or the
everyday intrusions and interruptions of devices in our face-to-face interactions (McDaniel &
Coyne, 2016a)—have found that parents perceive that technology interruptions are happening in
their interactions with their romantic partners, with their children, and in their parenting and
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coparenting interactions (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016a; 2016b; McDaniel, Galovan, Cravens, &
Drouin, 2018; McDaniel & Radesky, 2018a; 2018b). Not only are these interruptions happening,
but more frequent interruptions are connected with perceptions of lower quality couple and
Why does phone use affect parenting quality?
There are a variety of reasons, many of which can occur simultaneously, that can explain
the impacts of phone use during parent-child interactions on parenting quality. First, one simple
explanation is that time spent on the device is time that is not being spent on parenting the child,
which leads to fewer interactions and responses (e.g., Radesky et al., 2014; Radesky et al., 2015;
Hiniker et al., 2015). This is termed displacement (e.g., McCombs, 1972).
Second, parents report difficulty switching between paying attention to their device and
being responsive to their child (Radesky et al., 2016). This could be seen as multitasking, where
attention is divided and individuals are attempting to complete multiple tasks simultaneously.
Multitasking research has shown that this divided attention can lead to inefficiencies and more
errors (e.g., Chen & Yan, 2016; Dindar & Akbulut, 2016; Fox, Rosen, & Crawford, 2009; van
der Schuur et al., 2015). Indeed, in interviews, parents have expressed how they find it difficult
to accurately interpret and respond to child cues when they are distracted with their device
(Radesky et al., 2016).
Third, parents also describe that some of the tasks they are involved in on the phone may
induce a variety of emotions or emotional engagement with the device or tasks (Radesky et al.,
2016). Indeed, individuals may feel stressed, overloaded, or negative emotions due to the phone
use (e.g., Ayyagari, Grover, & Purvis, 2011; Lee, Chang, Lin, & Cheng, 2014; Misra & Stokols,
2012), and this may decrease their emotional availability in their interactions with family and
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children. For instance, researchers have observed sometimes harsher parenting responses when
children attempted to obtain the parent’s attention from the device (Radesky et al., 2014), and
some parents have expressed getting angry at their children over interrupting their phone use
(Radesky et al., 2016).
How Does Parent Phone Use Impact Children?
One of the most important bonds a child can form in their lifetime is with a caregiver.
Indeed, attachments early in life with one’s caregiver(s) and the quality of these attachments are
crucial to the course of development across the life course (Sroufe, 2005). One of the reasons is
that children form an internal working model of relationships through these early interactions—
i.e., views on what a relationship is, how it is formed, how they should be treated, and how they
should treat others in relationships—and this continues with them, influencing their relationships
throughout their life (Bretherton & Munholland, 1999). Considering the emerging evidence cited
thus far on how parent distraction with phones may impact parenting behavior and quality, this
evidence would suggest that parenting sensitivity would be negatively altered. Sensitivity
involves four main components of awareness of child cues, accurate interpretation of cues,
contingent responsiveness, and appropriateness of response, and sensitivity has been found to be
one important determinant of attachment quality (termed security; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, &
Wall, 1978; Ainsworth, 1979). Indeed, if a parent was distracted by a phone or other device, the
parent might be less aware of their child’s cues and needs, less accurate in their interpretation of
their needs, delayed in their responses (less contingent), less appropriate in their response, or all
of the above. In turn, distracted parents may have children that form a more insecure attachment
with the parent. These concerns have been raised by a number of researchers (e.g., McDaniel &
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Coyne, 2016b; Radesky & Christakis, 2016; Stupica, 2016), although no research has directly
linked parent phone distraction with child attachment security as of yet.
Children notice or react to parent distraction with phones. Recent national reports have
found that 51% of U.S. teens felt their parents are at least sometimes distracted by their phones
during their conversations (Jiang, 2018), 28% feel their parents are addicted (Rideout & Robb,
2018), and 33% wish their parents would spend less time on the device (Rideout & Robb, 2018).
Additionally, in interviews with 1,000 children and teens about their parents’ phone use, Steiner-
Adair and Barker (2013) found that they often used negative emotion words, such as lonely, sad,
and angry, and they felt dissatisfied with their time with their parents when devices were in use.
Researchers have also found that children expect parents to model good device behavior and
habits surrounding mealtimes (Hiniker et al., 2016). Overall, these results suggest that children
and teens experience negative emotions surrounding their parents’ use. Furthermore, a recent
study of teens’ perceptions found that when teens perceive their parents as distracted more often
by their devices they also feel they experience less parental warmth, and then this is ultimately
tied to a host of negative outcomes in these teens—such as anxiety and depression (Stockdale et
Parents are noticing changes in their children’s behavior as well. For example, in
interviews some parents talked about noticing that their children are less relaxed, more upset, or
unsatisfied when the parent is using a device (Radesky et al., 2016), with some children and
teens actively trying to get the parent to put the phone away (Oduor et al., 2016; Sharaievska &
Stodolska, 2017). In studies of young children, parents perceive greater problem behaviors, such
as externalizing (e.g., acting out, anger) and internalizing (e.g., withdrawal, sulking), when more
technological interruptions occur in their interactions with their children (McDaniel & Radeksy;
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2018a; 2018b). Parents also perceive child behavior to be more difficult on days when parent
device use is more problematic and absorbing (McDaniel & Radesky, 2017). The behavior
exhibited likely differs depending on child age and ability to regulate their emotions; however, it
affects children of all ages—even young infants react to parent phone use. For example, the still
face paradigm has been used for many years to examine how infants respond to parents’
responsiveness to the infant. In this experiment, the parent and infant go through three phases,
including free play, still face (where the parent goes devoid of emotion and stops interacting),
and reunion (Mesman, van van IJzendoorn, & Bakermans-Kranenburg et al., 2009; Tronick et
al., 1978). Recently, researchers have adapted this procedure by introducing parent phone use as
the still face phase, and during this phone use infants display increased negative affect, decreased
positive affect, and increased bids for the parent’s attention (Myruski et al., 2017; also see Bohr,
Khourochvili, & Zita Lau, 2017).
There is also some emerging evidence which suggests that child learning and/or
achievement may be affected in a variety of domains by parent distraction with devices. Through
experimental work, Reed, Hirsh-Pasek, and Golinkoff (2017) found that 2-year-olds did not learn
words that were taught by parents during segments where parents were distracted by a phone
call. Additionally, if parents are distracted during mealtimes, they are less likely to encourage
children to try new foods (Radesky et al., 2015), while mothers who are distracted during infant
feeding may overfeed their infants perhaps leading to infants who do not learn to listen to their
satiety cues (Golen & Ventura, 2015). In observational work in doctor offices, Davidovitch et al
(2018) found that parents who were distracted with phones during developmental screening visits
had children with higher rates of developmental delays (e.g., language/motor). Another
interesting piece of evidence deals with sports performance. In observational data, it was found
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that children perform better at sports when their parents paid attention to them and worse when
their parents used their phone (Stupica, 2016).
From this review, it is clear that parent distraction with phones and other devices while
around children has become a common phenomenon. This is concerning, as the emerging
evidence suggests links between this distraction and parenting and child outcomes. For example,
we see lower awareness and sensitivity, fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions, less coordinated
parenting and coparenting, dissatisfaction with time spent together, negative child reactions (e.g.,
problem behaviors), and much more.
Additionally, although parents have been distracted in various ways and moments
throughout the course of history, the emerging trend of device distraction feels more alarming
due to its prevalence (it can affect any parent to at least some extent) and the strong habits (and
perhaps addictions) that have been created with our devices. Yes, there have been concerns
expressed with the advent of every technology over the years. However, this is the first time in
the history of humanity where we have devices that are connected to almost all parts of our lives
and identities and that travel with us (often in our pocket or hand) everywhere we go, from
private to public spaces and from individual time to family time. Additionally, some initial work
suggests it is more difficult for us to break our attention with our mobile devices than with other
sorts of distractions, making child needs and bids for attention less likely to be successful (e.g.,
Abels et al., 2018; Hiniker et al., 2015).
What is most alarming, however, is the potential for this to impact the forming of strong
and secure bonds between parents and children. It is currently unclear whether children are less
likely to form a secure (healthy) attachment relationship with their parent or caregiver when
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device distractions are common. Yet, the emerging evidence suggests impacts on parenting
sensitivity and behaviors, all of which theoretically would impact the formation of healthy
attachments. If the effects are strong enough, it is possible that a greater proportion of children
(and eventually adults, as these children grow) would attend to the world with an insecure view
of themselves and relationships. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough, as one’s
views on relationships could potentially affect many aspects of one’s life, such as friendships,
romantic relationships, work relationships and productivity, and mental health.
Limitations & Future Directions
Although the research reviewed in this report contains a variety of methodologies, much
of this work is based on self-reports and often retrospective self-reports. It is quite possible that
individuals may make errors in their recall as well as inaccurately report the frequency of their
device use. For instance, it is likely that the more distracted one is the less accurate one’s report
would be, as one was perhaps not even aware of some of their immediate experiences (e.g., child
needs; that the device produced a disruption in the interaction in that moment). The real-time
tracking of device use (via apps or other internal software) could provide more accurate data.
This tracking combined with observational or survey measures seems especially promising,
especially if the types and amount of device use could be linked with individuals’ and children’s
perceptions, feelings, and behaviors.
The field is also in need of more experimental work to better establish causation in these
processes (for example, see Reed, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2017; Lanette, 2018), especially
since we know that depression and other factors may be confounded with parent phone use,
parenting quality, and child outcomes. For instance, depression may lead to more phone use as
well as worse parenting quality, lower responsiveness, and lower sensitivity. Some studies have
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statistically controlled for this, such as McDaniel & Radesky (2018a; 2018b) but the possibility
of confounding remains.
Future work should examine the potential influences of parent distraction with devices on
child attachment security. Although researchers have expressed concerns related to the potential
for effects on attachment security, there is no empirical evidence as of yet. This research would
be best accomplished via longitudinal and observational research, which can better determine the
directionality of effects.
The nuances of parent distraction with devices need further examined. Some work has
begun to examine why parents turn to their devices (e.g., Radesky et al., 2016). However, there
are likely some reasons that draw parents more powerfully away from their children or
individuals in front of them. It is also possible that different types of use (e.g., texting, social
media use, phone calls, viewing shows or movies) may be more absorbing than other types,
which would likely produce different effects in families and parent-child relationships.
The personal attributes of parents and children also need to be examined in order to
understand whether effects are universal. Like with most phenomenon, it is more likely that
characteristics (such as, but not limited to, child age, child temperament, parent views on
technology, parent attachment orientations) moderate these associations. This also illuminates
another limitation in the current research—the lack of diversity. The majority of research on
parent distraction with devices has been done on predominantly White, middle-class parents and
families. Future work should examine the prevalence of parent device absorption and distraction,
reasons for use, feelings about use, and child outcomes in more diverse samples. Furthermore,
there is often a lack of child or teen perspectives on the issue (although there are a few notable
exceptions; e.g., Hiniker et al., 2016; Jiang, 2018; Stockdale et al., 2018). It is also clear that the
Parent Distraction with Phones 17
processes can differ depending on the child’s age, especially as older children and teens also
have their own devices (e.g., Stockdale et al., 2018).
Finally, although the current review examines parent distraction with devices, it is also
important to examine how devices can be used to further strengthen family relationships. Along
with this, it could be examined whether certain amounts of parent distraction with devices can
help to teach children various skills needed in an ever-connected world, such as how to deal with
distractions in relationships and how to delay the gratification of needs and wants. Additionally,
researchers and organizations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016) often make
recommendations such as creating technology free times or zones. Yet, the effectiveness of such
recommendations should be empirically tested. Work such as this could inform clinicians and
educators on how to better assist families in utilizing devices in healthy ways—instead of only
informing families of the potential negatives and asking them to reduce or stop use.
Parents and children are grappling with these issues on a day-to-day basis—draws toward
use, rules over use, and so forth—and parents feel conflicted about their use as well (Radesky et
al., 2016). There are a variety of programs or resources for parents and families in regards to
managing family or child media use, content of media use, etc. (e.g., CommonSenseMedia.org).
However, effective programs and recommendations need to be designed to help parents and
families to form healthy device habits specifically during family and social interactions. For
example, it is not known what would be most effective in the moment to help children feel
valued if a parent had to get on their device for a moment. Research and intervention work (such
as Hiniker, Hong, Kohno, & Kientz, 2016; Okeke, Sobolev, Dell, & Estrin, 2018) is needed to
design evidence-based programs and recommendations, and this is needed quickly.
An ever-changing technology landscape
Parent Distraction with Phones 18
Although the current review examined parent distraction primarily with cell or
smartphones, technology is ever-changing and seems to become more embedded in our lives
each and every year. If other devices produce similar influences on individuals—i.e., diverting
attention from the child in front of them, encouraging multitasking in the presence of others, and
so forth—then it would seem that the quality of parenting would still be negatively altered.
However, it is clear that the use of technology does not produce only negative effects. Indeed,
technologies can provide a variety of advantages for individuals and relationships as well, such
as increasing connection throughout the day, increasing the ease of communication, and so forth
(e.g., Coyne et al., 2011). It would depend on how the technology is used.
One new frontier for technology involves in-home smart technology and/or digital
assistants, such as Alexa or Google Home (e.g., Wiederhold, 2018). It is currently not known
how these will influence parents, children, and families, although there is becoming widespread
use of digital voice assistants on smartphones (Pew Research Center, 2017b), with some reports
suggesting that by 2021 there will be as many digital assistants (such as Alexa) as people on the
Earth (Shulevitz, 2018). It likely depends upon how much the family actually utilizes the device
in their daily lives. However, there is the potential for bonding over activities with the device
(e.g., playing a game), increased time with family (as the device may save the parent some time
as it takes care of some tasks for the parent), impaired or lower quality interactions (e.g., Alexa
reading books to the child instead of the parent; adaptations in types of language used in families
due to simple language needed to talk to the device; Beneteau et al., 2019), and much more.
Furthermore, there are likely many more technological advances to come that we have not even
imagined yet. Our quickly evolving and technological world presents unique advantages and
Parent Distraction with Phones 19
challenges, and we must continue to consider and research the ramifications of emerging
Parent Distraction with Phones 20
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