Kids and screens. It's a hot-button parenting topic that's not going away anytime soon... or ever. How much screen time is appropriate? Which games and programs are good for cognitive development? Which social media platforms are safe for kids to use?

While research continues to evolve on how screens affect kids, there's one important area that hasn't been explored much: parents and their screens.

Parents are estimated to use smartphones, tablets and wearables for up to three hours a day, according to Science Daily. Have you ever thought how your Netflix binging, Candy Crushing and firing off work emails while at the park might affect your your kids' development? This is exactly the question a group of child behavior researchers and pediatricians at University of Michigan and Boston Medical Center.

They published the results of their study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The insight gleaning starts even from the article's title: Parent Perspectives on Their Mobile Technology Use: The Excitement and Exhaustion of Parenting While Connected. Based on in-depth interviews with 35 caregivers with children ages zero to eight, the results found their mobile use disrupted family routines, led to multi-tasking between work and family, and contributed to emotional tension.

"We found that parents are struggling to balance family time and the desire to be present at home with technology-based expectations like responding to work and other demands," said Jenny Radesky, M.D., the lead researcher. "It's much harder to toggle between mom or dad brain and other aspects of life because the boundaries have all blurred together."

Many parents reported their smartphones led to work stress bleeding into family life. They might be in a sour mood after seeing an irritating work email, which led to them snapping at their kids. Parents also found their own screen use often led to children becoming disruptive with attention-seeking behaviors.

The anecdotes weren't all negative though. Parents also welcomed the opportunity to plug into the outside world to escape from the stress of parenting demands at home, for more flexible working schedules, and to communicate more easily with family members.

The study still found much room for improvement when it comes to balancing screen time and family time. "Caregivers of young children describe many internal conflicts regarding their use of mobile technology, which may be windows for intervention," the study's authors said. "Helping caregivers understand such emotional and cognitive responses may help them balance family time with technology-based demands."

Published on: Oct 18, 2016
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