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Parenting While Distracted: Smartphone Use Could Impact Child Development

Texting and other smartphone use that interrupts a parent's care could have longterm consequences for the child. (MarcoMaru/morguefile)
Texting and other smartphone use that interrupts a parent's care could have longterm consequences for the child. (MarcoMaru/morguefile)
January 20, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Distractions from your smartphone could cause long-term damage to your children, according to new research looking at the impact of fragmented care on brain development.

University of California researchers found that frequent interruptions to the bonding that should take place between new parents and their child can lead to emotional disorders for the child later in life.

Hal Stern, a Cal-Irvine professor and report co-author, says it should be a warning to parents who find it hard to put their phones away.

"It speaks to the importance of having, you know, regular patterns in your interactions with your child," says Stern. "And a clear way to do that would be to kind of set the phone aside when it's reading time or play time."

Even though the study's first phase focused on rodents, Stern says it showed distractions can break the consistent rhythms that developing brains need to ensure the growth of robust neuron networks. He says children need greater assurance that when a parent picks up a book, for instance, that time really is reserved for them.

Researchers found erratic care of infants can increase the likelihood of risky behaviors, drug and alcohol use, and depression in adolescence and adult life. Stern says because mobile phones are so ubiquitous and bring an endless stream of calls, texts and social-media posts, the group's findings are especially important for today's parents.

"As children become adolescents, one might expect effects on risk-taking behaviors," he says. "And an increased risk of emotional disorders and the like."

Stern says the next step is to see how these discoveries in rodent behavior apply to people. The team plans to use video analysis of parent care, and imaging technology to measure brain development, to find out if limiting distractions today can help prevent problems for tomorrow's teens and adults.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL