Cell phones may help moms and dads parents better.
Cell phones may help moms and dads parents better.

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  • Researchers in Australia analyzed the cell phone habits of about 3,500 parents with children living at home.

  • They found that cell phone use is associated with better parenting, as long as the parent isn’t immersed in the device around their children. 

  • Parents typically experience “an intensive burst of highly attentive parenting” after using their cell phones, the researchers noted.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Cell phones have long been characterized as harmful devices that distract parents from engaging meaningfully with their children. But a new study from researchers in Australia suggests that cell phone use may actually help with parenting, since the devices provide “some freedom” even while parents are involved in childcare duties. 

Researchers from several Australian universities surveyed about 3,500 parents who have children living at home, and asked about their cell phone habits over the course of a day. The survey also evaluated how often using a mobile phone led to conflict within the family and directly interfered with a parent spending time with their children. 

Cell phone use may help with parenting, as long as the parent isn’t engrossed in the device

After using the phone, parents typically get "an intensive burst of highly attentive parenting."
After using the phone, parents typically get “an intensive burst of highly attentive parenting.”

Getty

The researchers found that cell phone use is associated with better parenting, as long as the parent isn’t immersed in the device while the children are present.

So, firing off a quick text message to a friend, quickly looking up a recipe or glancing at a funny meme, even while children are sitting right nearby, can actually benefit a parent. Those moments give parents the benefits of taking a break while they’re still physically with their children. 

Data also suggests that momentary distractions are typically followed by “an intensive burst of highly attentive parenting,” the researchers noted. 

The key, the researchers found, is keeping the phone from displacing time with children or making kids feel like they’re competing with the phone for a parent’s attention. 

“There has been a great deal of rhetoric that smartphones are to ‘blame’ for poor parenting, but of course families and parenting are far more complex than that,” Kathryn Modecki, an author of the study and a senior lecturer at Griffith University, told Insider. 

“At low levels of family disruption and family conflict, more parental phone use was associated with higher-quality self report parenting,” Modecki added.

The study has some shortcomings, considering that the data about cell phone use, and its effects, were self reported. Studies have found that people spend more time on their cell phones than they realize.

Other studies have found negative links between cell phones and parenting

Other studies have reported negative associations between parenting and cell phone use. Mobile devices may be the reason for a 10% increase in unintentional injuries in children. There’s evidence to suggest that smartphones may interfere with children’s social development and could be linked to misbehavior in kids.

The authors acknowledged that there are potential downsides to using a phone while with children. They wanted to evaluate the devices more objectively than they have been in the past.

“Rather than starting from the hypothesis that ‘smartphones are a problem’ and looking for confirmation of that hypothesis, we were asking-what are the patterns?” Modecki. 

Dr. Kelly Fradin, a pediatrician who practices in New York City, said the study was refreshing because it acknowledges the real-world challenges parents face when it comes to screentime, especially during the pandemic — when so many parents are working from home and are isolated from their key support systems. 

“I am glad to see scientists open to the complexity and reality of parenting today,” Fradin told Insider. “Connecting with others, keeping up with the news… on my smartphone all help me spend more time with my child and potentially make me a more grounded and informed parent. Of course, smartphones interfere and interrupt our time together too…It’s worth considering both the quality and the quantity of time together, and making efforts as a parent to find a good balance.”

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