Life at the playground has changed now that parents and caregivers bring their cell phones with them. And many are feeling guilty about it, according to a new study.
While other studies have looked at cell phone use on playgrounds from a distance, this one went further. Researchers recorded over 40 hours of adults' behavior at playgrounds in Seattle. They also interviewed parents, nannies and other adults about their cell phone use.
Feelings fell into three main camps. Most of the adults watching kids (44%) felt that they should restrict phone use on the playground, and felt guilty for not doing so; 28% felt that most “adult-focused” cellphone use was perfectly appropriate; and 24% felt it was important to eliminate or at least minimize cell phone use while watching children and lived up to that ideal.
Phone use did have its consequences. It was much more distracting than the users realized.
When children tried to interrupt an adult using a cell phone — asking the adult to look at them or settle a dispute or for some other reason, more than half of the time (56%), the adult failed to respond, speak or even look away from the phone. When these adults were not on the phone, but chatting with a friend, helping another child or simply staring into space, a child's request was only ignored 11% of the time.
So maybe cell phone users do have something to feel guilty about. It certainly seems to be taking their attention away from the children. Even worse, adults tended to overestimate how responsive they were to children's requests for attention while using their phone. They realized that being on the phone was distracting, but many mistakenly thought that a child's request for attention would filter through and bring their mind back to playground.
Adults tended to overestimate how responsive they were to children's requests for attention while using their phone.
Boredom was the single greatest factor prompting people to reach for their phones.
Imagine a feature like the V-chip on a TV, with children deciding which phone functions to block and which to allow their parents to access. Hopefully, parents are monitoring children's screen time, so turnabout is fair play.
The study was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's Computer Human Interface (CHI) 2015 conference.