Study: Children, phones often battle for mom’s gaze

Woman G2e4eeda4d 1920
woman with child and cellphone

By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Kyle Hamrick

A study conducted by the University of Alabama and the Alabama Women’s Commission between 2019 and 2022 found smartphones are competing with children for their mother’s attention.

Surveys conducted with 100 mother-child pairs found that 98% said their devices interrupt meaningful interactions with their children at least twice a day. One out of every four said this distraction happens more than 10 times every day.

“Most people recognize that smartphones occupy increasingly more of our time and attention,” said Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Dr. Jason Scofield. “But it was eye-opening to see the actual numbers.”

The results revealed smartphone use can negatively affect social and mental development in children, and parents should reduce the amount of time they spend with their smartphones and other devices.

That means silencing smartphones and other small-media devices, making designated spots to place them before interacting with children and assigning times to check for messages.

“The report’s findings serve to educate, inform, and make recommendations so that women ensure their child is developing socially and cognitively and for us to limit our technology so that this does not occur,” said Alabama Women’s Commission Emeritus Board Member Anita L. Archie.

Tuscaloosans echoed the report’s findings, emphasizing balance and noting how much children notice what the adults in their life do.

“Any kind of screen, whatever it is, TV, iPhone, iPad, can disrupt meaningful interaction,” said Margaret Conger, who is a former teacher.

Too much screen time affects attention spans, and “(cuts) down on interactions with others,” she said.

When the work day is done, Cogner said parents should consider focusing “on being more intentional” while they’re spending time with their children.

Alex Kirkland agreed with that assessment. Whether you’re glancing at your phone to check the weather, are playing a game or browsing social media, Kirkland said children soak in what their parents are doing.

“I think that he picks up on that,” Kirkland said, pointing to his 15-month-old son. “He sees us staring at the phone and not paying attention to him.”

Kirkland’s wife Morgan said it’s a complicated balancing act.

“Kids really pick up on how you use phones, they really copy the things you do,” Morgan said.

Both agreed that working from home and raising a child at the same time is difficult, but setting boundaries between work and life is instrumental.

Shelly Lapp repeated that balance is important. A person working from home has to answer calls and emails amid the chaos of the workday, but they should still make time for their children.

“Children are going to imitate what you do,” she said. “So if everyone is sitting at the dinner table looking at their phones and not interacting with their kids, that’s a problem.”

Established in 1971, the Alabama Women’s Commission conducts research and creates education initiatives “to improve and advance the lives of women in the state of Alabama.”

You can read the full study right here.

Categories: Featured, Local News