Excessive parental cell phone use is tied to mealtime problems

June 2, 2020

Children are more likely to exhibit troublesome behaviors during meals if their caregivers’ use of mobile phones is “problematic,” according to a study of 84 caregivers and their children.

Children are more likely to exhibit troublesome behaviors during meals if their caregivers’ use of mobile phones is “problematic,” according to a study of 84 caregivers and their children.

Investigators recruited parents of 3- to 8-year-olds while they were attending clinical appointments at an urban tertiary medical center. The average age of respondents was 32.6 years and of the children 5.8 years. Using an electronic tablet, participants completed a questionnaire to evaluate if their mobile phone use was what investigators termed “problematic.” The 10-item survey focused on symptoms of mobile phone addiction and categorized respondents as casual users (14.3% of participants), regular users (61.9%), at-risk users (19%), and problematic users (4.7%).

Caregivers also completed a 50-item survey to assess mealtime behavior and family mealtime habits. They rated how often their children engaged in troublesome mealtime behaviors, such as refusing to eat, throwing tantrums, complaining, arguing, seeking attention, getting up from the table, squirming, having poor table manners, or putting too much food in their mouths.

Analysis of the survey results showed that problematic mealtime behaviors were significantly correlated with problematic phone use, particularly among younger children (Milkovich LM, et al. J Dev Behav Pediatr. March 6, 2020. Epub ahead of print.).

Thoughts from Dr. Farber

Mealtime presents an excellent opportunity for families to connect. As pediatricians, we encourage parents to limit their child’s electronics. It turns out we should also do the same for parents. At mealtimes when my children were young, we would ask everyone in turn to relate one good thing that happened to them that day, to get conversations rolling.