A new Boston Medical Centre study has found that parents who get distracted by their smartphones have more negative interactions with their children than parents who put their phones away when around their kids. The study also discovered that today’s children feel they are competing with their parents’ smartphones for attention.

Dr Jenny Radesky, a paediatrician specialising in child development at the Boston Medical Centre was curious about the impact of smartphones on the parent-child relationship. She and two other researchers spent a summer observing 55 different groups of parents and their young children eating at fast food restaurants. Radesky is quick to point out that this was not a scientific study, but rather an anthropological observation with detailed field notes.

They observed that 40 of the 55 parents were busy with their smartphones during the meals and only put them down occasionally. “What stood out was, that in a subset of caregivers using the device almost through the entire meal, how negative their interactions could become with the kids,” she said.

Some examples that were given are – a father responded in irritated tones to his children who were trying to get his attention. One child tried to lift his mother’s face while she was looking down at her tablet, with no success. And a mother kicked her child under the table as a response to the child’s various attempts to get her attention while she was busy on her phone.

Radesky is now working with the American Academy of Paediatrics to develop some guidelines for parents to follow while using smartphones in front of their kids.

This study makes us wonder whether putting down a smartphone will make us better parents. The reality is that there have always been parents who are more engaged than others. This study is, however, a great reminder to take responsibility for our actions and to spend more quality time with our children.