As if we really need another reason to think about putting down our smartphones, a recent study by UVA postdoctoral researcher Kostadin Kushlev suggests that for parents, being distracted by their phones may make them feel less connected to their children.
In the study, published this spring in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Kushlev, along with Elizabeth Dunn (Grad ’02, ’04) now of the University of British Columbia, notes that research about smartphones and parenting has focused on the effects that parents’ use of smartphones might have on their children. However, in their study, Kushlev and Dunn looked at how phone use affected the parents themselves. They theorized that it might interfere with the positive emotional benefits parents derive from spending time with their children.
The research involved two studies: one with parents visiting a science museum with their children, and a second in which for six days parents responded every evening to a survey to report their activities and feelings during the 30 preceding minutes. Evaluating parents’ use of smartphones in both studies, the researchers found their results suggested that “frequent smartphone usage distracted parents from cultivating feelings of social connection while spending time with their children.” This work adds to a growing body of data measuring the sometimes subtle costs of technology’s omnipresence in our lives. As they write in the paper’s conclusion, “Our theorizing suggests that the very devices intended to connect us with others can, ironically, undermine our feelings of connection while spending time with the most important people in our lives.”