It's official: spending time on your phone does not make you a bad parent

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Parents have often been criticised for being on their phones too much and now a study has found phone usage could actually benefit families.

And with most of us using our phones more in the past few months because of lockdown restrictions and needing to work from home, it's a good thing to find out that using our phones doesn't mean we're neglecting our family.

The Griffith University-lead study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, discovered parental phone usage was more often a sign of warm and attached parenting.

"Parental smartphone use has been demonised as a risk to families, by various sectors of the community and media," says lead researcher Dr Kathryn Modecki.

"But across diverse family environments, smartphones play multiple roles in family life, including provision of social support and information, and allowing for work and digital errands. 

"As long as phones are not heavily impacting on family time, smartphones tend to be tied to positive (and not negative) parenting."

"For parents, the smartphone is an essential link to the outside world for support, knowledge or to connect with others in similar situations," researcher Dr Lynette Vernon said.

Researchers analysed the phone use of 3,659 parents using data from the ABC's 2017 Science Week smartphone survey and tested 12 different measures of smart phone use including sms texting, calls, social networking, total usage and how often they briefly checked their phone, compared to continuous use. They then assessed the associations between parenting and smartphone use and found little evidence of a direct link between the two.

The team also took into account whether phone use reduced the time spent with family or was associated with family conflict. 


Overall, they discovered that smartphone use was more often associated with better, not worse parenting.

"Smartphones allow us to be connected to work, to get support, find information, to run errands, it allows us to be physically present in ways that otherwise we would have to be elsewhere," she said.

"Smartphones facilitate so many ways for us to be around our kids and to deal with things in our life, especially with COVID at the moment.

"We also found a difference between if you are immersed in scrolling through social network sites compared to texting or glancing at your phone while still being actively engaged with your family."

Unfortunately, parents are often chastised for using their phones near their children, with little evidence of their behaviour being harmful, when in actuality as long as you're not constantly on the phone, it can have a positive impact on family life.

"The challenge with much of the technology-family literature is that is has mainly stemmed from an assumption of risk and problems," she said.

"As a result, small and uneven findings can become the focus of media, policymakers, and parents. 

"This is an issue because it can cloud our insight as we consider ways to meaningfully assist parents and families to enhance positive outcomes via information and support online."

The study was supported by Menzies Health Institute Queensland and co-authors are members of Murdoch University and Edith-Cowan University. 

Researchers are encouraging anyone interested in taking part in the second stage of the study to go to