Parents who have children with more externalising problems become more stressed, which may lead to their greater withdrawal with technology.
Parents, take note! Using smartphones during family activities such as meals, playtime, and bedtime may lead your children to show frustration, hyperactivity, whining, and sulking, according to a study.
The study, published in the journal Pediatric Research, examined the role and impact of "technoference" or everyday interruptions in face-to-face interactions because of technology devices in parenting and child behaviour.
Recent studies estimate that parents use television, computers, tablets and smartphones for nine hours per day on average, according to researchers at the Illinois State University and the University of Michigan in the US.
A third of this time is spent on smartphones, which due to their portability are often used during family activities such as meals, playtime, and bedtime - all important times involved in shaping a child's social-emotional wellbeing.
When parents are on their devices, research shows that they have fewer conversations with their children and are more hostile when their offspring try to get their attention.
In the study, 172 two-parent families (total of 337 parents) with a child aged five years or younger answered online questionnaires as part of a research project about parenting and family relationships conducted between 2014 and 2016.
Participants indicated how often per day different devices interrupted their conversations or activities with their children.
Parents rated their child's internalising behaviour such as how often they sulked or how easily their feelings were hurt, as well as their externalising behaviour, such as how angry or easily frustrated they were.
The parents also reported on their own levels of stress and depression, the coparenting support they received from their partners, and their child's screen media use.
In almost all cases, one device or more intruded in parent-child interactions at some stage during the day.
Technology may serve as a refuge for parents who have to cope with difficult child behaviour. However, the survey results showed that this tactic had its drawbacks.
Electronic device use likely deprives parents of the opportunity to provide meaningful emotional support and positive feedback to their children which causes their offspring to revert to even more problematic behaviour such as throwing tantrums or sulking.
This only added to parents' stress levels, likely leading to more withdrawal with technology, and the cycle continues.
"These results support the idea that relationships between parent technoference and child externalising behaviour are transactional and influence each other over time," said Brandon T McDaniel of Illinois State University.
"In other words, parents who have children with more externalising problems become more stressed, which may lead to their greater withdrawal with technology, which in turn may contribute to more child externalising problems," McDaniel said.