Cellphone use by parents determines children's behaviour, study suggests

A Calgary parenting group is calling on parents to put down their phones a little more often.

Study says parents need to put down their phones and pick up their kids

Cell phone overuse by parents is creating negative behaviours in their children, a new studies done by researchers from the University of Michigan and Illinois State University have found. (CBC)

Parents, put down those phones.

That was basically the finding of a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School and Illinois State University, who looked at the impact of parents' excessive phone use on children's behavior.

"It is the first [research study] of its kind and it is shocking — but it is great, because we now know," said Gail Bell, the co-founder of Parenting Power in Calgary.

"What they found was, parents addicted to the phone — unable to stop [the] checking phone — really interfered with those everyday interactions, such as face-to-face communications, playtime, meal time, and that is having a huge increase on [their childrens' negative] behaviour," Bell added, in an interview on The Homestretch.

Of 200 families studied, 40 per cent of moms and 32 per cent of dads admitted being addicted to their phones.

"Those are really big numbers," Bell said.

Jahan Gulamani and her husband have decided to keep technology away from their daughter as much as they can help it in her early years. A new study suggests children are negatively impacted by parents who overuse their phones. (Enzo Zannata/CBC)

New word

The phenomenon has even resulted in a new word: technoference.

"It is just those interruptions that a screen causes between a parent and their child," Bell said.

"It is really affecting connection between kids and affecting speech in children."

Researchers reported some definite identifiable outcomes as a result, Bell said.

"Parents are texting and using headphones," Bell said. "When children speak to them, and they don't get any response,  they get the message that they shouldn't speak." 

That was borne out in the results produced by the study, in which there was a 20 per cent drop in verbal interactions, 30 per cent drop in non-verbal communications and 28 per cent drop in moms encouraging their children.

"[It's producing an] increase in whining, an increase in actually physically pushing and shoving and pulling on parents — when they're little and don't have the language to communicate — throwing themselves on the floor, yelling and screaming. Which is really hard [for parents to contend with]."

'Kids learn what they live'

Gail Bell is a co-founder of Parenting Power in Calgary (Gail Bell)

As far as what parents can do to remedy the situation, Bell says it's not so complicated — but that doesn't mean it's easy, either.

"Kids learn what they live. We have to step up. We have to start being the adults — and we have to be responsible with that," she said. 

"Start small. Set yourself up for success. Maybe it's every dinner or every breakfast that you eat together, if you eat together as a family. At bedtime routines, give your child attention. That's why children act up at bedtime — they don't want to not be with you. Try to ditch your phones at meals, bedtime — and for sure, playtime."

With files from The Homestretch


Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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