Why parents are stressed out by their own mobile phones

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Parents searching for elusive work-life balance may see smartphones and tablets as a way to escape the office in time to be home for dinner each night, but these gadgets can also be a huge distraction and source of stress, a recent study suggests.

When researchers asked a group of parents to slow down and answer detailed questions about how and when they use mobile technology, people revealed a lot of internal conflict about how the devices are changing their lives.

“Every time a new technology is introduced, it disrupts things a little, so in many ways this is no different from the anxieties that families and our culture felt with the introduction of the TV or telephone,” said lead study author Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrics researcher at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

“What is different is the rate of adoption and saturation of our households with mobile technology compared to these older technologies (e.g., it took the iPad 80 days to reach 50 million global users, compared to 14 years for televisions) — so we have less time to reach a new homeostasis with each of them,” Radesky said by email.

As smartphones and tablets blur the lines between work, home and social lives, parents are struggling to balance it all and this may be causing internal tension, conflicts and negative interactions with kids, Radesky and her coauthors note in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

To explore how parents feel about these gadgets, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 35 caregivers, including mothers, fathers and grandmothers.

On the one hand, many of the participants credited the devices with allowing them to spend more hours at home with their young children. But on the flipside, they felt pressure to stay constantly plugged in and responsive to emails from work even during playtime with kids or risk being perceived as “bad employees.”

“It’s the fear of being irrelevant within your professional career,” one father in the survey said.

The more work popped up on those tiny screens, the more parents paid attention to devices instead of their children, many participants said. Then, the more kids acted up to get their parent’s attention, the more parents tended to snap at them.

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