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Put down the cell phone for the sake of your children

It has been a matter of life-saving importance for 12 states to ban cellphone use for driving on public roads and 37 to ban minors the use of cellphone while driving. Now there is a study on how use of cell phones while parenting or caregiving affects minors during dinner or time spent together, according to an article published today in Pediatrics by Dr. Jenny Radesky.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and mother of two small children was plagued by this question and her approach to parenting.

‘When I talk about it with siblings or friends, everyone struggles with it,’ Radesky said. ‘We want some guidance and balance. We need to stay connected with email, work and friends, and still be present with our kids.’

Dr. Radesky and her team conducted a small test group study which is published today in the journal Pediatrics. It was a very common task she found that adults as parents or caregivers to minors were distracted and used the cell phone to stay connected with business, work contacts or other situations that demanded attention.

Her numbers revealed how common and uniform it is for the adult’s attention to be consumed with the cellphone task of texting and reading emails.

Her team of researchers went out to fast food restaurants around Boston and their test data revealed that of the 55 adults observed with children from infant to 10 years of age, 40 used a mobile device during the meal. The number of adults totally distracted by the mobile device throughout the entire meal was 16 in the study.

During the meal time the Radesky research team watched children get up from the table to get another item or a child sang along to an app program on a device. The adult gave no indication of establishing eye contact or any other use of voice or body contact. Studies have shown that these simple tasks have an importance in an infant’s development but no study exists for children.

Does the lack of these forms of adult interaction with children develop negative behavior? Gedeon Deák, professor in the department of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, who studies human development and parent-child interaction, states that children in many cultures grow up without eye contact or direct vocalization without life-long damage. He has written about learning to share with infants in his article on, 'Cognition and Brain Development.'

‘These are subtle aspects that are acquired late and slowly over years,’ stated Deak. ‘One question I have is how children understand the impact of these interruptions to look at a phone? How do they understand what it means for the conversation?’

The interaction of conversation and social maturity is a question that other behavioral specialists ask openly. There are benefits according to Dr. Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, and that the regular interaction for sit-down meals has shown in other studies benefits of healthy psychological effects.

Dr. Saltz states that children who have regular sit-down meals with family are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or get pregnant as teenagers. And a list of other responsible developed behaviors. He bottom line summary is that parents and children who communicate at meal time or other set times provide the children with a healthier balance in their life for the future.

Please see the list below in Author’s suggestions on other use of technology to benefit children in their development and view the video atop this article on how to teach children safe cellphone use.

Victoria Wagner@victoriaross888