Too much attention to the smartphone worsens the parent-child relationship


By John

Paying too much attention to your smartphone in the presence of children worsens family relationships and has possible repercussions on the psychological well-being of children. This is the result of the Milano-Bicocca study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, which reveals how the pervasive use of digital devices, even during the moments traditionally reserved for relationships, has negative repercussions on the psychological well-being of young people, in especially adolescents. The study is the result of a multidisciplinary collaboration between researchers from the Milano-Bicocca Department of Psychology – Luca Pancani and Paolo Riva – and from the University’s Sociology and Social Research Department – Tiziano Gerosa and Marco Gui.

At the basis of the study, the so-called phenomenon of «phubbing» (a term composed of «phone», mobile phone, and «snubbing», snubbing), a behavior whereby people, in a social context, ignore the interlocutor to pay attention to their smartphone . To date, phubbing is mainly studied within work and couple relationships and research shows that those who suffer phubbing have negative repercussions on their psychological well-being, devalue the relationship with colleagues or partners and, in the most serious cases, arrive to develop depressive symptoms.

The study stems from the observation that there were no measures capable of detecting the phenomenon of phubbing in the parenting environment, in particular the perception of children of being ignored by their parents because they are too often busy paying attention to their smartphone. The group of researchers then developed the first questionnaire to measure the phubbing that children suffer from their mother and father, collecting data on a sample of over 3,000 adolescents (aged between 15 and 16).
In addition to this, the research results confirmed the researchers’ initial hypothesis: adolescents who felt more like victims of phubbing by their parents also perceived themselves as more distant from them, socially disconnected, ignored and excluded. Thanks to this last point, the researchers were therefore able to link the study of a new phenomenon (phubbing) to the long tradition of research on experiences of social exclusion which, as is known in the literature, can have very negative repercussions on those who suffer them, which can go as far as the development of depressive symptoms and suicide.

“Phubbing is a phenomenon that is characterized to all intents and purposes as a form of social exclusion, in particular of ostracism, i.e. being ignored, becoming invisible and feeling not existing in a given context”, explains Luca Pancani, social psychologist, “Phubbing – he adds – it is particularly important to study because the ubiquity of the smartphone means that this phenomenon of ostracism can be acted upon by anyone and at any time, enormously increasing the possibility of negative consequences for those who suffer it. This takes on even greater importance in the parent-child relationship, in which parenting style and responsiveness to the children’s requests play a crucial role in adolescent development.
According to Tiziano Gerosa, a sociologist, «despite being by now rooted in many relational spheres, including the family one, phubbing remains a relatively recent phenomenon and not yet regulated by explicit social norms (such as, for example, those which indicate how we «should» behave at the table, ask ourselves towards others or express ourselves in certain situations). Research on this topic, and the consequent dissemination of its results, can greatly affect the construction of social norms that place limits on phubbing rather than accepting it indiscriminately”.

The researchers claim to be only at the beginning of the research on parental phubbing and have a series of future studies in mind, including the investigation of the circularity of the phenomenon: it is not only the children who suffer phubbing from their parents, but also the parents to suffer it from the children and this would feed a vicious circle and the establishment of a social norm that could favor phubbing and, therefore, increase its repercussions within the entire family context.