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Parents distracted by devices, study says

A new report in the Journal of Pediatrics says children who constantly see their parents on their smartphones take notice.
March 10, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new report in the Journal of Pediatrics is questioning the effects of parents using smartphones to text, email or surf the web while they're with young kids. It seems harmless, even productive, but the study says otherwise.

Mickey as in Mickey Mouse. That's what 18-month-old Sadie Schrader wants on her mom's smartphone.

"If she doesn't get it and get to watch Mickey, she'll throw a fit," said Rene Schrader of Westwood.

It escalates when mom tries to use the smartphone.

The smartphone struggle takes place so often that Boston researchers decided to study it. They hit local fast food restaurants and found more than 70 percent of parents with their kids used their smartphones.

Parents were least engaged with their children when they typed or swiped on their devices. As expected, the kids didn't take well to that lack of attention.

Some of the kids got so upset with their parents that they even started throwing food at them. And it wasn't that they wanted the attention of their parents, what they wanted was the phone.

"You're teaching your kids that kind of behavior, to not focus your entire attention on someone else in a conversation, that it's OK to multitask," said Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA.

Dr. Small says studies prove you can't text and drive, now the question is: can you text and effectively parent?

"There's some debate - can the brain really multitask?, you know, I think yes it can because I can breathe while I think so those are two different tasks, but I think there's a limit to it," said Dr. Small.

Dr. Small says unlike a book or a newspaper, smartphones are a more compelling distraction.

While this study doesn't prove it can impair a person's ability to parent, it does underscore what parents like Schrader already know.

"Keep it away unless you need it. The phone is not more important than your kid; the text message will be there," said Schrader.

Dr. Small points out smartphones aren't completely bad, they can help you get useful parenting information. But nothing can beat eye contact when you're trying to communicate with your child.


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