Are Parents Less Responsive to Young Children When They Are on Their Phones? A Systematic Naturalistic Observation Study

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40 Citations (Scopus)


This study examined whether parents are less responsive to their young children (0-5) when they use a phone. We systematically observed 53 parent-child dyads in consultation bureau waiting rooms and playgrounds. Twenty-three parents used their phone at least once during the observation. Across the dyads, we observed parent and child behavior during a total of 1,038 ten-second intervals. Of these intervals, 641 contained a bid for attention from the child. Accounting for the nested nature of the data, we found that the odds of parents responding to their child's bid for attention were five times lower when using a phone than when not using one. Moreover, parents' responses were less timely, weaker, showed less affect, and were less likely to prioritize the child over other activities. While being fully absorbed in one's phone significantly decreased the odds of responding compared to when not using a phone, occasionally glancing at the phone did not, suggesting that parents may have developed a "mode" of phone use for managing dual attention over the phone and the child. In addition, while a higher intensity of phone use does seem to matter, it did not differ from intense engagement in other nonchild directed activities. The incidence of fully absorbed phone use, however, is greater. Finally, the results show that asking for consent for the observation beforehand leads to a decrease in the odds of phone use, suggesting a social desirability bias. Overall, the findings support concerns over the impact of parental phone use on child development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-370
Number of pages8
JournalCyberpsychology, Behaviour, & Social Networking
Issue number6
Early online date9 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • FACE
  • child development
  • child phubbing
  • observation study
  • parent-child interactions
  • parental phone use
  • parental responsiveness


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