Antecedents and Consequences of Parent Technology Use in Parents of Young Children

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Virginia Tech


The availability of and access to technology has been steadily increasing in recent years. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology use in some form is almost a daily occurrence in the United States (Vargo et al., 2021). A growing body of work has been examining familial technoference, which include interruptions to family interactions due to technology use, and a sub-focus of this research has specifically focused on parent-child relationships and technological interruptions. Using a comprehensive theoretical approach including an update to the process model of parenting (Belsky, 1984; Taraban and Shaw, 2018) and support from both attachment theory (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bowlby, 1969) and ecological theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1977; Bronfenbrenner and Ceci, 1994), the current research examined the role of technology in parent-child interactions with parents of two-year-old children. In Study 1, constructs of parental technoference were explored in parents of children between 24-26 months of age to evaluate latent factors of parent technology use from 60 indicators and to identify parent and family characteristics that might predict the factors of technology use. A nationally recruited online sample of 323 parents of two-year-old children completed a set of questionnaires online to examine constructs of parental technology use and predictors of those constructs for Study 1. A CFA was conducted to evaluate the model fit of multiple indicators of parent technology use loading onto four predicted latent factors: Problematic Technology Use, Technoference with Child and Family, Social Support through Technology, and Technology Use as Regulation. The hypothesized model had poor fit, and an Exploratory Factor Analysis was conducted. In the final model, only 35 indicators emerged as significant factors to be included in the final model to map onto five latent constructs: Missing Out due to Technology, Problematic Technology Behaviors, Preoccupation with Technology, Positive Parenting through Technology, and Social Support through Technology. The final latent constructs parsed apart the predicted Problematic Technology Use into distinct constructs of thought (Preoccupation with Technology), behavior (Problematic Technology Behaviors), and consequence (Missing Out due to Technology), while items from the predicted Technoference with Child and Family mapped onto the more general Missing Out due to Technology (in various contexts, not just that within the family). Items from the predicted Technology Use as Regulation and Social Support through Technology mapped closely onto the Positive Parenting through Technology and Social Support through Technology constructs, respectively, albeit with fewer significant factor loadings than predicted. Next, predictors of the latent constructs (perceived stress, social support, parenting satisfaction, parenting self-efficacy, and both parent and child effortful control) were examined. SEM was conducted to determine predictors of these constructs of technology use. Perceived stress was a significant predictor of all five latent constructs. Parenting self-efficacy was a significant predictor of Problematic Technology Behaviors, Positive Parenting through Technology, and Social Support through Technology. Parenting satisfaction was a significant predictor of Problematic Technology Behaviors, Preoccupation with Technology, Positive Parenting through Technology, and Social Support through Technology. Social support was not a significant predictor of any latent constructs. Parent self-regulation was a significant predictor of Missing Out due to Technology and Positive Parenting through Technology. Child self-regulation was a significant predictor of Preoccupation with Technology, Positive Parenting through Technology, and Social Support through Technology. These findings demonstrate that there are distinct patterns of parental technology use that are differentially related to parent and family characteristics. This insight into characteristics that are associated with distinct types of technology use can be helpful in the development of targeted intervention for parents seeking to change their technology use behaviors. In Study 2, the impacts of parent technology use on parent behavior during parent-child interactions were examined through a repeated measures analysis of variance (RMANOVA) and Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM). In a randomized experimental design, 57 primary caregivers of 30–36-month-old children participated in three 5-minute free play sessions with their child in these conditions: control (no technology), television, and smartphone. Parent engagement with technology was scored in each condition, as well as parental sensitivity and involvement. First, RMANOVAs were conducted to explore differences in proportions of parent involvement with child play by condition and mean differences in parental sensitivity. There were significant differences in proportions of levels of parent involvement by condition; however, there were no differences in mean levels of parent sensitivity by condition. Due to a significant interaction between proportions of levels of involvement and order of condition, an HLM was conducted to control for change over time and isolate influences of condition on parent behavior. When time was controlled, there was significant negative effect of TV and a significant negative effect of smartphones on parental involvement. Overall, the findings from Study 2 demonstrated that caregivers are less involved with child play when technology is present, and especially so when smartphones are involved. Though there was not an overall effect of technology on caregiver sensitivity, further analysis did reveal that caregivers who attended to technology did have lower sensitivity scores than caregivers who did not attend to technology. The findings from this study replicate prior experimental work examining the role of background TV on caregiver-child interactions and extend findings to include the negative effect of smartphones on caregiver-child interactions. Together, the two studies provide further insight into parental technology use, understanding both antecedents and consequences of parent technology use in contribution to the overall knowledge of the mechanisms through which parent technology use relates to parenting and parent-child interactions. The findings from these studies combined can be used to develop targeted interventions for caregivers who are interested in making decisions about technology use within their families that are aligned with healthy developmental outcomes.



technology, toddlers, technoference, parental technology use, parenting behaviors