Moms’ Smartphone Usage Affects How Babies Behave

Thanks to the prevalence of mobile devices, people rely on their smartphones more than ever to stay connected, but the impact on infant development remains largely unknown. Now, new findings reveal that a mother’s mobile device use impacts both mother-baby interactions as well as a baby’s behavior.

The new study, led by Hunter College Professor Tracy Dennis-Tiwary — and colleagues, was published in the journal Developmental Science.

The team focused their study on infants aged 7 to 24 months, and paid attention to three specific periods of mother-child interaction: playful contact between mothers and babies, the time when mothers use their mobile devices, and the “reunion,” i.e. when mothers’ attention returns to their babies. They also used a questionnaire to measure mothers’ mobile device use outside of the laboratory.

“We found that infants showed the most distress when mothers were on their mobile devices,” says Sarah Myruski, the first author on the paper and a psychology doctoral candidate at The Graduate Center at the time of the study. The team also saw a correlation between greater use of mobile devices by mothers outside the lab and less adaptive infant behavior during experimental tasks. Specifically, babies were less likely to explore the room during the study, and displayed less positive engagement with their mothers during the reunion phase.

Frequent use of mobile devices may decrease the quality of the social interactions by reducing opportunities for emotional feedback, which infants need to develop emotion regulation. Results suggest that, like other forms of maternal withdrawal and unresponsiveness, mobile device use can have a negative impact on infant social-emotional functioning. “The study highlights the need for parents to be mindful of their device use in front of children, in particular when they may be missing out on opportunities for quality interaction,” says Myruski.

Olga Gulyayeva, a graduate of Hunter College, and researchers at Pennsylvania State University also contributed to the study.

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Tracy Dennis-Tiwary (Professor, Psychology) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Sarah Myruski (Post-doctoral researcher, Psychology) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Hunter College The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
Turn Off That Smartphone, Mom and Dad! (Psychology Today)

Moms And Dads, Put Down Your Mobile Phones! (CUNY)

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