Parenting: Fears about effect of smartphone use is unfounded, says new study

When not used excessively, smartphone may have a positive role in family well-being


Does your smartphone habit affect your kids' behaviour? Most parents may be worried that spending time on their smartphones has a negative impact on their relationships with their children.

However, a new comprehensive analysis by a team of Australian researchers says that this fear of smartphone use affecting parent-child relationships is unfounded.

In their study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the authors explored whether the effect of phone use on parenting depended on whether it displaced time with family and was associated with family conflict.

Based on analysis of data from 3,659 parent-based surveys,the researchers tested 84 different possibilities to assess whether smartphone use was associated with parenting, and they found little evidence. 

At low levels of displacing time with family, more smartphone use was associated with better (not worse) parenting. 

The authors noted that, especially considering diverse family environments, smartphones play multiple roles in family life, and when not heavily impacting on family time, may have a positive role in parenting.

"The challenge with much of the technology-family literature is that is has mainly stemmed from an assumption of risk and problems. As a result, small and uneven findings can become the focus of media, policymakers, and parents," said lead author Kathryn L. Modecki of Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, in Australia. 

"This is an issue because it can cloud our insight as we focus on ways to meaningfully assist parents and families to enhance positive outcomes." Thus, Dr. Modecki and her colleagues used a transparent approach that mapped a myriad of ways that smartphones could link to family well-being. 

"We found very little evidence of problems and hope these data help move us towards more constructive and nuanced conversations around families' diverse experiences with technology, actual risks associated with parenting, and where we can best support," she said.