A new study published in Pedriatrics by a team from Boston Medical Center and Boston University Medical Center concludes that, depending on the level of absorption into activities on a smart phone, caregivers using a smart phone at mealtimes were harsher on their kids acting out at the table.
Reading those headlines, I felt as if that sounded like quite an important study. After all, I find myself agitated sometimes when I am trying to multi-task between my phone and my toddler-age son. This could be a serious reminder for me to keep my smart phone off limits whenever I am with him.
Remember, as is the case with all studies, you have to read the fine print. Normally, moms don't have the time to dig into research findings – some reporters might not either – but it's important to always ask "why."
In this case, I wanted to know why the parents were agitated.
The study team described its research methods as follows: "Using nonparticipant observational methods, we observed 55 caregivers eating with 1 or more young children in fast food restaurants in a single metropolitan area."
Further down in the study, it explains that the research observations were conducted in July and August of 2013.
So, the field team picked the hottest months of the year, when kids are out of school, and parents might already be agitated with them, to conduct a study.
Also, later in the copy of the study, the team reports, "This study was considered exempt from review by the Boston University Medical Center Institutional Review Board."
One of the more popular quotes pulled from the research for other news reports came from the study's lead author, Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrics specialist at Boston Medical Center.
She said, "Caregivers who were highly absorbed in their devices seemed to have more negative or less engaged interactions with children."
That is an important finding, and one that should lead to more questions from parents who are trying to gauge what is acceptable smart phone use around a child.
It is true that field research can provide some telling observations about society and potentially dangerous behaviors, as this study has done. However, this study seems to lead mostly to bigger questions, and should be a pre-cursor for more research, and not concrete conclusions, as many reports have made.
If you have a few minutes, you can even take a look at the study on your smart phone. Just don't do it in front of the kids.