Maternal Mobile Device Use During a Structured Parent–Child Interaction Task

Published:November 21, 2014DOI:



      To examine associations of maternal mobile device use with the frequency of mother–child interactions during a structured laboratory task.


      Participants included 225 low-income mother–child pairs. When children were ∼6 years old, dyads were videotaped during a standardized protocol in order to characterize how mothers and children interacted when asked to try familiar and unfamiliar foods. From videotapes, we dichotomized mothers on the basis of whether or not they spontaneously used a mobile device, and we counted maternal verbal and nonverbal prompts toward the child. We used multivariate Poisson regression to study associations of device use with eating prompt frequency for different foods.


      Mothers were an average of 31.3 (SD 7.1) years old, and 28.0% were of Hispanic/nonwhite race/ethnicity. During the protocol, 23.1% of mothers spontaneously used a mobile device. Device use was not associated with any maternal characteristics, including age, race/ethnicity, education, depressive symptoms, or parenting style. Mothers with device use initiated fewer verbal (relative rate 0.80; 95% confidence interval 0.63, 1.03) and nonverbal (0.61; 0.39, 0.96) interactions with their children than mothers who did not use a device, when averaged across all foods. This association was strongest during introduction of halva, the most unfamiliar food (0.67; 0.48, 0.93 for verbal and 0.42; 0.20, 0.89 for nonverbal interactions).


      Mobile device use was common and associated with fewer interactions with children during a structured interaction task, particularly nonverbal interactions and during introduction of an unfamiliar food. More research is needed to understand how device use affects parent–child engagement in naturalistic contexts.


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