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A complete picture

‘Most studies tend to focus on short-term negative effects, such as a diminished attention span,’ Wolfers said. What sets this research apart is its examination of various effects – both positive and negative – in the short and long term. She elaborates: ‘The phone can be crucial for parents, facilitating contact with family and friends or providing quick access to information. And of course, it is also nice to have a short break from constantly caring for a baby. In the long run, this could make parents feel less isolated, more relaxed and more confident. And a confident, happy parent, in turn, has a positive effect on the parent-child relationship and child development, as previous research has shown us.’ 

Compensating lack of attention with extra attention

When parents use their phones in the presence of young children, they are often less attentive to their child's signals than when they are not using their phones. While this may sound logical, there is also evidence that parents actually compensate for this temporary lack of attention to their child with extra attention afterwards. Wolfers: ‘Therefore, we are still unsure whether the short-term negative effects also persist in the long term. By investigating both positive and negative effects, we aim to gain more insight into how these aspects are interconnected in the long run.’

Data collection in three ways

Wolfers has been conducting research in the field of mobile communications for some time. She studies why people use their phones and what effects their phone use has on them, their interactions and their daily lives. To measure both short-term and long-term effects, the study consists of several forms of research. Parents complete monthly questionnaires, with additional daily surveys at specific times. In addition, the researchers will observe the children during two separate meal times, and parents' phone usage will be automatically tracked.

L.N. (Lara) Wolfers

CW : Youth & Media Entertainment