Since the mainstreaming of smartphones and social media, scholars, policymakers, and general observers have long pontificated about the impact of electronic devices on parenting. A simple Google search on parenting and smartphones will yield thousands upon thousands of essays, studies, and rants about the ubiquity of smartphones and whether or not they have shaped (or even distorted) our ability to connect with others, especially kids.
In a study published by The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, researchers tackle a question that occupies many people's minds: what truly is the real effect of smartphones on parenting? And it turns out our worries may be a bit misplaced, and things aren't as clear-cut as we might think.
Need for nuance — With a sample size of 3,659 parents, researchers carried out what's known as a multiverse analysis to see how parents made analytic choices. The authors used 84 different choices to see if smartphones impacted the quality of the participants' parenting skills, especially in terms of micro-decisions, the ability to connect with their kids, and sensitivity. The results overall showed "weak and mixed" effects, varying based on the level of so-called technological interference. Some level of technological interference actually led to "higher parenting quality," the researchers found.
In a statement, lead author Kathryn Modecki said, "We found very little evidence of problems and hope these data help move us towards more constructive and nuanced conversations around families' diverse experiences with technology, actual risks associated with parenting, and where we can best support."
The takeaway — Now, the purpose of the study isn't to encourage parents to obsess over their smartphones and turn a blind eye to their children. Smartphones do carry the potential to distract us from our main tasks and they do have the ability to take a considerable time out of our routines, especially time between parents and their children. Instead of presenting a binary yes-and-no analysis, the study shows that it's far more complicated than slapping all the blame on your use of electronic devices.
Circumstantial factors like income, working hours, support systems, division of domestic labor, and more have an undeniable effect on how people are able to care for their young ones. If anything, the research implores its reader to take a more nuanced and complex approach to parenting with technology as opposed to viewing it as a dichotomous issue. An assumption of risk and problems only shrouds the issue in useless finger-wagging.