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Parents' smartphone use does not harm relationships with children

Wednesday, 08 July 2020

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Contrary to popular views, parental smartphone use is rarely associated with poor parenting, and often, tends to be associated with warm and attached parenting.

A team of researchers including Dr Lynette Vernon from ECU, Dr Bep Uink and Dr. Helen Correia from Murdoch University and Dr Kathryn Modecki from Griffith University found these positive links when they partnered with the ABC to survey Australians about their relationship with their smartphone.

Published today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the researchers analysed 3,659, parent-based surveys*, and tested 12* different measures of smartphone use, to assess associations between smartphone use and parenting and found little evidence of a direct link.

They then explored whether the effect of phone use on parenting depended on whether or not it displaced time with family and was associated with family conflict.

At low levels of displacing time with family, more smartphone use was associated with better, not worse parenting.

“For parents, the smartphone is an essential link to the outside world for support, knowledge or to connect with others in similar situations,” Dr Lynette Vernon said.

“Parental smartphone use has been demonised as a risk to families, by various sectors of the community and media,’’ says lead researcher Dr Kathryn Modecki, also a member of Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

“But across diverse family environments, smartphones play multiple roles in family life, including provision of social support and information, and allowing for work and digital errands. If phones are not heavily impacting on family time, smartphones tend to be tied to positive (and not negative) parenting.”

The researchers used a transparent approach to map 84 ways smartphones could link to family wellbeing, using common self-report measures.

“There is a moral panic about screen time, but it would be na├»ve to ignore the online context where parents can be meaningfully assisted to gain information and support and where social relationships can unfold albeit via the smartphone platform,” Dr Bep Uink said.

Dr Vernon said the research had found little evidence of problems: “There is still a great deal more to understand about the role of smartphones in modern-day family life, especially as we traverse the COVID-19 landscape.”

The original research paper can be accessed at the Journal's webpage.

The research team is further investigating what modern life in Australia looks like during COVID-19, and their new survey is available if you would like to contribute to their research.

*Data from the ABC’s 2017 Science Week smartphone survey

*SMS texting, calls, social networking, total time, checking and various measures of intensity

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