New US research has found that parents who spend a lot of time on their phones or watching television during family activities such as meals, playtime, and bedtime could be contributing to their children's bad behavior.
Carried out by researchers at Illinois State University and the University of Michigan Medical School, the study set out to look at how a parent's use of technology and "technoference" can influence their child's behavior.
The researchers define technoference as "everyday intrusions and interruptions due to technology devices," and believe it can lead to worse behavior in children such as showing more frustration, hyperactivity, whining, sulking, or tantrums.
To investigate, the team looked at 183 couples with a child age 5 years or younger who participated in the new study.
Parents were asked to indicate how often per day different devices interrupted their conversations or activities with their children, as well as report on their child's screen media use.
They were also asked to rate their child's internalizing behavior, such as how often they sulked or how easily their feelings were hurt, and their externalizing behavior, such as how angry or easily frustrated they were.
Finally, parents were asked to report on their own levels of stress and depression and how much support they received from their partners.
The researchers found that in nearly every family, one device or more interrupted parent-child interactions at some point during the day.
After taking into account other potentially influencing factors, the team also found that a higher level of externalizing behavior predicted greater technoference, and greater parenting stress.
Technoference also often predicted greater externalizing behavior.
The study also suggests links between a child's internalizing behavior and technoference, although the association was weaker.
The team suggested that parents who struggle to cope with their child's bad behavior may be using technology as an escape. However, the tactic may be counter-productive and actually make behavior worse.
The researchers explained that as screen time interrupts opportunities to provide meaningful emotional support and positive feedback to children, children can then become even more problematic in response. This leads to even more stress for parents, who use more technology to escape, and the cycle continues.
"These results support the idea that relationships between parent technoference and child externalizing behavior are transactional and influence each other over time," says study co-author Brandon T. McDaniel.
Co-author Jenny S. Radesky also added that the findings support mealtime observations which have shown how a child's bad behavior often escalates in an effort to get the attention of their parents using mobile devices.
The results can be found published online in the journal Pediatric Research.