Parents Use Tech Devices to Pacify Kids, Research Shows


A study from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan found that parents of kids who have emotional and social problems in low-income families were more likely to be given mobile technology to calm or quiet them.

Lead author of the report, Jenny Radesky, M.D., who is a pediatrician, said:

“We know that parents of babies and toddlers with difficult behavior disproportionately use television and videos as calming tools. We wanted to explore whether the same might be true for mobile technology like phones and tablets.”

She added that the study found that the less control parents had over their kids and the increased frustrations that stemmed from it, the more likely parents were to turn on mobile devices to soothe their children, according to Rick Nauert, Ph.D. of PsychCentral.

Radesky explained that more research was necessary to find whether this link between digital technology and social-emotional behavior difficulties applies to the general population of parent, too. Further study will be needed to discover what effect it could have on children’s long-term outcomes.

In this study, scientists monitored 144 healthy toddlers from 15 to 36 months living in low-income homes. Parents were questioned about allowing the use of smartphones or tablets during various emotional states.

Researchers found that the devices were more likely to be given to children as a coping mechanism to calm kids who were exhibiting disruptive behaviors.

But, says Radesky, there were no differences between children with social-emotional problems and other kids when it came to the use of technology during other activities, such as at bedtime, eating, being in public, or doing chores.

“Other studies show that increased television time can hinder young children’s language and social development, partly because they reduce human-to-human interaction,” Radesky said.

The lead author shared that because technology is so pervasive, the devices have become a part of people’s one-on-one space. She wants to identify not only how mobile devices hinder family dynamics, but how tech can also be used to increase the connection between parent and child.

One issue that troubles Radesky is that parents may be handing their kids a device to distract them from whatever is distressing them. But children learn how to handle anxiety by dealing with the stress they experience.

She is advising that parents be more aware of how their youngsters are using technology and how long they are on the devices, writes Global News’ Allison Vuchnich. Using only technology to calm children robs them of the chance to learn how to calm themselves down.

If the content on the device is of high quality and helps the young one with active learning and not just passive watching, then the time on a technological instrument may be valuable. But the optimal learning comes when parents are involved in the interaction with the device.

The researchers want parents to be mindful of how much time their kids are on the technology — 30 minutes a day is different from allowing the time on mobile devices to stretch into two or three hours per day.

The study was published Feb. 29 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

03 2, 2016
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