Does smartphone use strain your relationships?

“It’s not just kids who are overdoing screen time. Parents are often just as guilty of spending too much time checking smartphones and e-mail — and the consequences for their children can be troubling,” writes NPR’s Patti Neighmond.

Dr. Jenny Radesky is a pediatrician specializing in child development. When she worked at a clinic in a high-tech savvy Seattle neighborhood, Radesky started noticing how often parents ignored their kids in favor of a mobile device. She remembers a mother placing her phone in the stroller between herself and the baby. “The baby was making faces and smiling at the mom,” Radesky says, “and the mom wasn’t picking up any of it; she was just watching a YouTube video.”

Radesky was so concerned she decided to study the behavior. After relocating to Boston Medical Center, she and two other researchers spent one summer observing 55 different groups of parents and young children eating at fast food restaurants. Many of the caregivers pulled out a mobile device right away, she says. “They looked at it, scrolled on it and typed for most of the meal, only putting it down intermittently.”

This was not a scientific study, Radesky is quick to point out. It was more like anthropological observation, complete with detailed field notes. Forty of the 55 parents used a mobile device during the meal, and many, she says, were more absorbed in the device than in the kids.

Radesky says that’s a big mistake, because face-to-face interactions are the primary way children learn. “They learn language, they learn about their own emotions, they learn how to regulate them,” she says. “They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones.”

Today’s Question: Does smartphone use strain your relationships?

  • JQP

    yes. nearly everyone I know uses smartphones, my children included. (18 and 20). two things occur to me.
    1 – people “know more” than they actually do. the phone gives the access to knowledge they don’t possess or remember – because they don’t have to.
    2- knowledge quality varies widely on the internet- but not its general use by anyone with a smart phone. Stupid and wrong come up just as often as Smart and Right – but few if any discriminate based on data quality – but discriminate based on data adherence to the consumers “world view”

    • “the phone gives the access to knowledge they don’t possess or remember – because they don’t have to.”
      “Never memorize something that you can look up.” – Albert Einstein

      • killershrew

        There’s some wisdom in Einstein’s quote, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. If people stopped bothering to learn anything, because they could always look it up, that would have bad ramifications for our culture. To be able to critically analyze a field of knowledge or a complex question, you need to know a lot about the topic. For example, take physics. In order to build upon prior knowledge and theories, you need someone well versed in the knowledge of the field. You can’t just look up a couple theories on the internet and then come up with a new theory – it would be full of holes due to your ignorance of the rest of the subject. The same is true for all sorts of areas of study – you can’t properly analyze history if you aren’t well versed in it. You can’t critique literature if you haven’t read a lot of it. To master any field and progress in it, you have to dedicate your time to really studying it. Google University can only take you so far.

  • James

    Blackberries weren’t called Crackberries for no reason! And that was back when all they did was e-mail.
    I spent this past weekend on vacation with my adult family. We were in each other’s presense probably 24 hours of the 48. Of those 24 hours, I would guess that someone was doing something on his or her phone 100% of the time and there were periods when we all were doing something on our phone, simultaneously.
    Kind of pathethic!

  • kevins

    My wife thinks that I should learn to text, but so far I have been able to politely refuse, and she can take a joke about that. My adult children think I’m backwards at times, but also respect my need not to be plugged in constantly. Clearly, however, smartphones have changed millenia of human dynamics, both for the good and for the bad, although I feel like we ain’t seen nothin’ yet, if you can forgive the informal language. I am toying with the idea of banning smartphone usage at our next Thanksgiving dinner, just to see the withdrawal drama. Should be a hoot, or in the alternative, I may be eating alone!

  • Jim G

    I have a couple of observations on smart phones. At a pizza joint in SW Minneapolis recently both parents were using their smart phones as their kids ate. There didn’t seem to much interaction between the parents and kids throughout the meal. I wondered whether they were bringing their work “home” with them.

    My wife has picked up the habit of playing solitaire on her devices as a mechanism to help her relax after work. Before that, it was playing Sudoku puzzles in puzzle magazines, so I can’t say that it has reduced the actual amount of communication. It seems to be just a transference to a different platform.

    This weekend no one used their their smart phone at the Easter family get together. Reflecting back, even our youngest niece, a sophomore in college, was present throughout the afternoon.

    In my experience smart phones have made life more hectic. It is harder to find quiet time for deep personal reflection, and that is certainly a loss.

  • PaulJ

    What are those for? I don’t need that much email access.

  • Joe

    No, but if my relationships are indeed strained it’s probably due to a personality disorder or something, not some big bad machine.
    At the same time, I have a personal distaste for smartphone dependence and will try to avoid it until I am slowly assimilated, which I’m sure I won’t even notice is happening. I just hope I’m not one of those people who forgets where things are in the real world and refuses to know where the location of a destination is and how to get there BEFORE getting in the car and driving there. GPS devices turn some people into idiots and distracted drivers, and I hope I never become one of them.

  • Laraine Walker

    I think it is too easy for people to sit down at a table and grab the phone and find out what other family members are doing on Facebook. It is an annoying habit, those who are present take second place. I too have been shocked to see young children try hard to get Momr Dad ‘s attention whEn she was in a public space, absorbed in her smartphone.

  • bob hicks

    We have become our devices.

    • We are the people our parents warned us about.


  • Jen H

    I am concerned about the conflict these devices have on parent-child interactions, and adult to adult, and child to child. But equally concerning is how they take away our opportunity to be bored, or the opportunity to wonder about something for a while. In spite of the enriching resources they provide to quench our thirst for information, they ultimately inhibit our creativity and our ability to quiet the mind. Today the earth smells sweet and the buds are swelling in the trees and I am compelled to turn off Facebook and all non-essential email, and instead immerse myself in the birdsong in the back yard, and get my hands in the dirt.