Put down that mobile device while eating — Tara Haelle says researchers may be watching:

The study, led by Jenny S. Radesky, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, aimed to learn a bit more about parents’ use of cell phones while out with their children.

The researchers visited several fast food restaurants in the Boston area and observed 55 parents or other caregivers (guardians, babysitters, grandparents) who were there with at least one young child.

Most of the children were school age, and the meals lasted anywhere from about 10 to 40 minutes.

The observers at each restaurant took careful notes on whether and how much the caregiver used their mobile phone and how both the child and the caregiver acted while there.

Then all these notes were gathered together so that researchers could seek out common themes or behaviors that appeared throughout the observations.

The results revealed that 40 of the 55 caregivers observed used their mobile phones during the meal.

The biggest influence on the interactions between the caregiver and the child appeared to be how absorbed in the cell phone the caregiver appeared to be.


Some adults used their cell phone for only a short time.  For others, the phone provided for joint entertainment with their children.  And still other caregivers were completely immersed in their screens:

“Highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehavior,” the researchers noted.

Among those observed, 16 of the caregivers “used the device almost continuously throughout the meal, eating and talking while looking at the device or only putting it down briefly to engage in other activities,” the researchers reported.

These 16 cell phone users crossed a range of ages, included both males and females and were as likely to have another adult present as not to.

Usually, these caregivers were not talking on the phone but rather were swiping or typing on it with their eyes nearly continuously only on the mobile phone.

In fact, those who were on a phone call during the meal at any time usually maintained some eye contact with their children and did not spend as much time on the phone as those who texted or used other applications.


Published this week in Pediatrics, the study revealed that a caregiver using a mobile device  during observed meals left some kids passively quiet, and others vying for attention:

[W]e did find it striking that during caregiver absorption with devices, some children appeared to accept the lack of engagement and entertained themselves, whereas others showed increasing bids for attention that were often answered with negative parent responses.


I hope these caregivers don’t take these same devices with them to the bathroom…