Parenting Time Problems and Tech Obsessions
By: M. Scott Gordon
Can a parent’s obsession with technology—such as surfing the web on a smartphone or sending text or email messages—interfere with parenting time such that the child’s well-being is negatively affected? In Chicago, “parenting time” refers to the time in which a parent exercises caretaking functions of the child. Under Illinois law (750 ILCS 5/602), “parenting time” is the term we now use to describe physical custody of the child. In other words, this is a time in which the child is being cared for physically by the parent. Illinois presumes that both parents are fit for parenting time unless there is evidence that “a parent’s exercise of parenting time would seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.”
Given that state law wants to help create strong relationships between parents and children, there is indeed that a presumption that parents are fit for parenting time without a strong showing to the contrary. While a parent’s obsession—or constant use of—technology likely does not rise to the level of an activity that would make the parent unfit for parenting time, a new study in the journal Child Development suggests that tech-obsessed parents can raise children with behavioral problems.
Technology Interruptions Can Lead to Behavioral Problems in Children
When parents share in parenting time after a divorce in Chicago, the goal is to maintain a healthy relationship between the child and the parents (just like before the divorce). However, according to the study in Child Development, technology could be interfering with strong parent-child relationships, and it could even be resulting in behavioral problems in children. More specifically, the recent study concluded that, “even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with greater child behavior problems.” To be clear, spending too much time on your tablet or smartphone could impact your child’s upbringing.
The study involved researchers from Illinois State University and the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The authors of the study looked at the amount of time parents currently are spending using tablets and smartphones when they are with their young children, and they observed a correlation between digital technology use and problematic child behavior. When children in newly divorced family situations “act out” or have tantrums, parents often make assumptions about the child’s behavior—assumptions linked to the family separation or the divorce. However, the researchers suggest that, at least in some cases, parents’ constant use of smartphones might be a factor.
Relationship Between Smartphone Use and Child Behavior
How did the study work? The researchers asked parents “to rate how problematic their personal device use was based on how difficult it was for them to resist checking new messages, how frequently they worried about calls and texts, and if they thought they used their phones too much.” In addition, the researchers asked parents to estimate “how often phones, tablets, computers, and other devices diverted their attention when otherwise engaged with their children.”
This is what they found: nearly half of all parents indicated that, at least three times or more each day, technology interrupts their interactions with their children. About 24 percent said these interruptions occur about twice on a typical day, 17 percent reported about one interruption on a typical day, and only 11 percent indicated that digital technology does not interrupt their interactions with their children. The researchers then studied the behavior of the children of those parents surveyed, and determined that there may in fact be a relationship between parents’ technology usage and child behavior.
The authors of the study emphasize that there is more research to be done, but this study is a good start in helping to think through some of the ways in which parenting time in Chicago can be hindered or problematized through technology.
Contact a Chicago Parenting Time Attorney