two hands on each side of the image using smart phones with a child stuck in the middle. The child rests her chin on your her two hands
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 9, 2024 ·  5 min read

Parents Who Are Addicted to Their Cell Phones Affect Their Children’s Development – According to Scientists

At this point, many of us are addicted to our cell phones. We often impulsively, without thinking, pick up our phone, open up Instagram, and start scrolling before realizing what we are doing. Unfortunately, this is actually affecting our children far more than we may realize.

Parents Addicted To Cell Phones Affects The Development Of Their Child

While a few years old at this point, it’s still important today. A 2017 study done by the University of Michigan found that there is a connection between parents who are addicted to their cell phones and children with behavioral problems. The researchers surveyed 170 two-parent households about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other technology. They then also asked questions about what the lead author Brandon McDaniel calls ‘technoference.’ Essentially, this is how and how often the use of technology interrupts family time. (1) Interruptions during family time can include checking messages, scrolling, or swiping through social media and other apps during (1):

  • Mealtime
  • Playtime
  • Routine activities
  • Conversations with the children

They compared the parent’s answers with information about the children’s behaviors over the last two months. They found that even below-average or ‘normal’ amounts of technology-related interruptions during time spent with children caused (1):

  • Increased whining
  • Oversensitivity
  • Hot tempers
  • Hyperactivity

What Is The Reasoning Behind This?

The authors are clear that this isn’t a direct correlation – many other factors play into child behavior. Things like parental stress, changes or challenging times, and several other variables play into how children behave. The researchers also recognize that many parents of children with behavioral problems may turn to technology to “turn off” or destress from their child. That being said, the effect this kind of distraction has on children can’t be discounted. (1)

“We know that parents’ responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children. It’s really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time.” (1)

Essentially, when you allow screens and technology to interrupt the time you are spending with your child, they feel ignored or unimportant. This then causes them to act out in a bid for your attention. (1)

Who’s Addicted to Cell Phones More, Mom or Dad?

In the study, parents were asked how problematic they thought their tech use was. Questions included (1): 

  • How difficult it was for them to resist checking new messages
  • How often or how much they worried about calls and messages
  • If they thought they used their phones too much

Though both parents in general said about two devices distracted them while engaging with their children regularly, mothers perceived this to be more problematic than the fathers did. (1)

More Research Needs To Be Done

The study did control for factors such as (1):

  • Parenting stress
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Income
  • Parent education
  • How supportive partners were of each other in parenting their child

Despite this, the researchers agree that more research is needed to draw more solid conclusions about how much parents addicted to cell phones affect their child’s behavior and development. For now, it suffices to say that parents should be mindful of how much they are using technology when with their children. (1)

“It’s too early to draw implications that could be used in clinical practice but our findings contribute to growing literature showing an association between greater digital technology use and potential relationship dysfunction between parents and their children.” says McDaniel. (1)

More Studies

The University of Michigan study isn’t the only one done on this topic. Researchers did an international study on 6,000 children between the ages of six and 13 also found similar results. 32% of the children felt “unimportant” when their parents used their phones during family time. Others said that they feel they have to compete with technology for their parent’s attention. Over half of the kids said their parents spend too much time absorbed in their smartphones. (2)

Another study focused on children’s behavior in fast-food restaurants between kids whose parents were absorbed in their phone the whole time versus those who were actively engaging with their children. They found that kids with parents on phones were in general noisier and less well-behaved.  The parents themselves were also more irritable and impatient, which contributed to even worse behavior from the children. (3)

It doesn’t stop there: Yet another researcher interviewed one thousand children between the ages of 4 and 18 to determine how they felt about their parent’s cell phone use. They reported feeling sad, mad, angry, and lonely when their parents were on their phones instead of spending time with them. Some even went so far as to hide or purposefully damage their parent’s phones to prevent them from using them. (4)

Read: Giving your children experiences instead of toys boosts their intelligence and happiness

Put Down The Phone And Connect With Your Kids

Essentially, children whose parents are frequently distracted by their phones (and let’s be honest, that’s most of us) are hindered in their development. This goes both for emotional development as well as psychological and mental. While technology is a huge part of our lives and is pretty inescapable at this point, it is important that parents unplug during family time.

Family time includes:

  • During daily routines (morning, bedtime, getting ready for school, etc)
  • Mealtimes
  • Playtime

Back and forth conversation with your children is extremely important for development on all levels. It helps them feel seen and heard. Conversation helps them develop language and communication skills. Your children also learn behavior from what you model for them, so if you are constantly distracted when talking with them, you teach them that this is an okay behavior to do with other people.

Detaching yourself from your phone can be challenging. Set some parameters for yourself. Maybe this means putting your phone in a different room, turning it off, or putting it on airplane mode while spending time with your children. Maybe it means learning to ignore messages during family time. Personally, when I am spending time with family or friends, I do my best to ignore my phone. It can be challenging; however, I go by the general rule that if it is truly urgent, that person will call.

Don’t Miss Your Child’s Life Because You’re Addicted to Your Cell Phone

Don’t allow your phone to distract you from your child. Before you know it, they will be grown and gone, and you will be struggling to figure out why you don’t have as many memories as you think you should. Talk to them, engage with them, play with them. You can check your messages when they’re in bed or during the day while they’re at school. Both you and your child will benefit.

Keep Reading: Why Adult Children Don’t Want Their Parents’ Stuff


  1. Can parents’ tech obsessions contribute to a child’s bad behavior?.” Science Daily. May 24, 2017.
  2. AVG Now
  3. The Big Disconnect.” Catherine Steiner-Adair
  4. For The Children’s Sake, Put Down That Smartphone.” NPR. Patti Neighmond. April 21, 2014