Parental distraction negatively impacts interactions between children and parents – Neuroscience News

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Resume: A new study shows that any form of parental distraction, whether from screens or non-digital activities, has a negative impact on parent-child interactions. Both digital and non-digital distractions reduced parental sensitivity and children’s engagement. This suggests that it is not the screens themselves, but rather the divided attention that hinders communication between parents and children.

Key Facts:

  • Parental distraction, regardless of the source, harms parent-child interactions.
  • Both digital and non-digital distractions reduce parental sensitivity and children’s involvement.
  • Undistracted parental attention is crucial for optimal communication between parents and children.

Source: Boundaries

The use of technology is at an all-time high and understanding its impact on everyday life is crucial. When it comes to interactions between parents and children, scientists have coined the term “technoference,” which means technological interference. It occurs when interaction and communication between parents and children is disrupted by the use of digital devices.

But is distraction caused by digital devices more harmful to parent-child interactions than when parental distraction comes from different sources? Researchers in Switzerland have investigated this.

This shows a crazy little boy.
Regardless of their findings, the researchers emphasized that parent-child interactions are best when parents are not distracted at all. Credit: Neuroscience News

“In this study we show that when parents are distracted, the quality and quantity of interaction between parents and children decreases, compared to when parents are not distracted,” says Prof. Nevena Dimitrova, researcher at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western. Switzerland and principal investigator of the study published in Frontiers in child and adolescent psychiatry.

“This was regardless of whether that distraction came from a digital or non-digital activity.”

Screen distraction

While the negative impact of parents being distracted by their phones while around their children has been established, less is known about whether these negative effects stem from the parent using a screen or from the fact that the parent is generally distracted.

To fill this gap, the team around Dimitrova assigned 50 parent-child pairs, whose children were on average 22 months old, to play together for 10 minutes. The pairs of participants were divided into three groups. There was no disturbance in the first group.

In the second group, after five minutes of playing, the parent was given a questionnaire to complete on paper, while in the third group, the parent was also instructed to complete the same questionnaire via a tablet after five minutes. Parents who completed the questionnaire were instructed to continue interacting with their children.

The researchers found that parents who completed the questionnaire were less sensitive to children’s communication signals, and that children showed lower levels of social involvement toward their parents.

However, technoference did not have a more negative impact on parent-child interactions than non-digital distractions. Instead, all distractions, whether caused by screens or pen and paper, had negative consequences for parents, children and couples.

“We interpret this finding – which was equally surprising to us – as the possibility that screens are so ubiquitous today that young children are becoming accustomed to the reality of seeing their parents use screens,” says Dimitrova.

Regardless of their findings, the researchers emphasized that parent-child interactions are best when parents are not distracted at all. This can be especially important for parents who find it difficult to bond with their children.

Curbing a ‘moral panic’

The media mainly discusses alarmist reports about the risks of screen use, according to the researchers. However, research does not support the statement that screen use by or in the presence of children is exclusively bad. For example, previous research has shown positive effects of screens on the psychological development of children.

“This study shows how important it is to rely on scientific evidence rather than public opinion about screen use. We see that it is not necessarily the screens that are harmful to the quality of interaction between parents and children,” Dimitrova concludes.

“Instead, the fact that the parent is not fully involved in the interaction appears to negatively impact parent-child communication.”

However, the researchers also pointed out that it is difficult to make definitive statements about screen use by parents based on one study. This is partly because the daily interaction between parents and children differs from the experimental design.

For example, the ways parents use the screen while around their children cannot always be fully replicated. Studies in a naturalistic context are needed and may lead to different results, the scientists noted.

About this parenting and psychology research news

Author: Deborah Pirchner
Source: Boundaries
Contact: Deborah Pirchner – Boundaries
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Open access.
“Effects of digital and non-digital parental distraction on interaction and communication between parents and children” by Nevena Dimitrova et al. Borders within Child and adolescent psychiatry


Abstract

Effects of digital and non-digital parental distraction on interaction and communication between parents and children

Technoference, namely screen use by parents in the presence of a child, is a widespread phenomenon that has negative effects on the interaction and communication between parents and children.

When parents use screens around their children, there are fewer interactions and parents are less contingent and responsive to the child. In addition, children exhibit more negative behavior, such as whining, frustration and outbursts.

Communication is also affected: parents speak and gesture less to their children, and in turn children are less likely to develop their language skills.

However, it remains unclear whether parental distraction due to screen use affects the interaction and communication between parents and children more negatively than non-digital parental distraction.

Fifty-two parent–child dyads (mean child age = 22 months, range 12–36 months) first played for 5 minutes (Time 1); then (time 2) the parent was asked to complete a questionnaire on a tablet (screen condition), on a printed form (paper-pen condition) or was not interrupted (control condition).

Interactive quality was assessed at Time 1 and Time 2 using the Coding Interactive Behavior scale. Communication was assessed by coding the number of word tokens and types during Time 1 and Time 2; Children’s gestures were also coded.

The results showed that when parents were distracted – by the paper pen or by the questionnaire on the screen – the quality of the interaction deteriorated significantly (PS≤ .01) and the amount of parental communication decreased significantly (PS≤ 0.012).

Importantly, the nature of the distraction did not matter: there were no significant differences between the paper pen and screen distraction conditions at Time 2 (PS≥ 0.59).

Findings suggest that parental distraction matters for the quality of interaction and the quantity of communicative bids, regardless of whether parents were distracted by a digital or non-digital activity.

These findings likely reflect complex factors related to young children’s experiences and habits with parental screen use.

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