Interactive mobile media use by children and their parents in public places

Project Details


This study examines parents’ and children’s mobile phone use in public places, its impact on parents’ engagement with their children, and the modes of communication in two national contexts: the US and Israel. It is based on 115 unobtrusive qualitative observations of 323 parents with 317 2 to 6-year-old children visiting playgrounds and eateries, which took place from summer 2018 to spring 2019. The study shows that parents’ levels of engagement with their children could be classified along a continuum from high engagement, through divided engagement, to disengagement. The disengaged parents were tuned out and irresponsive to the child’s request for attention, help, or praise. This phone-related disengagement raised several concerns regarding children’s safety and emotional well-being. Furthermore, based on our findings we were able to suggest a theoretical model of six social uses of the mobile phone during family outings. Three structural uses were aimed to manage childcare-related activities, including the digital “playpen” (occupying the child and maintaining safety), “bottle” (feeding the child with the phone’s assistance). and “pacifier” (using the phone for behavior and emotional regulation). Three relational uses were aimed at facilitating or avoiding communication, and they included using the phone as a digital “bubble” (to avoid face-to-face communication), “bond” (using the phone for the child-parent quality time), and “stage” (documenting happy family moments). These findings call for intervention programs aimed at raising parents’ awareness of the potential negative outcomes of significant phone use during parent-child quality time away from home.

Effective start/end date1/01/16 → …


  • United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF)


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