Some parents use mobile phones and tablets to calm young children with behavioral problems, a new study finds.
“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,” lead author Dr. Jenny Radesky, of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.
“We found that the less control and more frustration parents felt over their children’s behavior, the more likely they were to turn to mobile devices to help calm their kids down,” Radesky said.
The study included 144 children, aged 15 to 36 months, in low-income families. Their parents were asked how often they allowed use of mobile phones and tablets during different situations.
The devices were most likely to be used to “pacify” children with social and emotional difficulties, the researchers said.
But parents’ use of mobile technology was no different for children with social-emotional problems and other children in other situations, such as eating, being in public, doing chores or bedtime, according to the study. The findings are published Feb. 29 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
“We need to further study whether this relationship between digital technology and social-emotional development difficulties applies to a more general population of parents as well, and what effect it might have on kids’ longer-term outcomes,” added Radesky, who conducted the study while at Boston Medical Center.
Previous studies have shown that increased television time can hinder young children’s language and social development, partly because they reduce human-to-human interaction, Radesky said.
“Now that screens can be taken anywhere, they have become part of our interpersonal space,” she added. “We’re interested in identifying the ways that mobile devices sometimes interfere with family dynamics, but also how we can use them as a tool to increase parent-child connection.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on child behavior.