The question

Scanning text messages or checking news or sports alerts on a cellphone is common in today’s world. If parents do this while interacting with their children, might it affect the children’s behavior?

This study

The study involved 170 two-parent families with at least one child older than 1 (average, 3 years old). Most mothers and fathers were in their early 30s. Asked to assess how often phones, tablets, computers and other technology devices diverted their attention while they were spending time with their children, such as during meals, playtime or other activities (described as “technoference”), nearly half (48 percent) of the parents said this happened three or more times on a typical day. Twenty-four percent said it occurred twice a day, 17 percent said it happened once daily and 11 percent said it never happened. As technoference increased, so did children’s behavioral problems, such as whining, sulking, restlessness, temper tantrums and acting out. The children’s own use of devices (their screen time) also increased. The researchers wrote that “even low and seemingly normative amounts of technoference were associated with greater child behavior problems.”

Who may be affected?

Families with young children. Technology has revolutionized daily life in myriad ways for adults and children alike. Children’s screen time has been shown to have benefits, such as educational development, as well as risks, including a decline in healthy physical activity, loss of social skills and possible exposure to violence. Adults face similar pros and cons, with the added risk of work time intruding on personal or family time.


Data on parents’ and children’s use of technological devices and information on the children’s behavior came from the parents’ responses on periodic questionnaires.

Find this study

Online in Child Development (onlinelibrary.wiley.com; click on “Publication Titles” and search for “Child Development”; then, on the journal’s home page search for “technoference”).

Learn more

Recommendations on children’s use of technology are available at healthychildren.org (search for “screen time”). Information on adults’ exposure to technology can be found at ­pewresearch.org (search for “record shares of Americans”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.