Tuning into the real effect of smartphone use on parenting: a multiverse analysis – video abstract

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Video abstract by Dr. Kathryn Modecki on her paper in JCPP ‘Tuning into the real effect of smartphone use on parenting: a multiverse analysis.’

Authors; Kathryn L. Modecki, Samantha Low‐Choy, Bep N. Uink, Lynette Vernon, Helen Correia, Kylie Andrews

First published: 07 July 2020



I’m Dr. Kathy Modecki here to give a quick rundown on a study recently published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, ‘Tuning into the real effect of smartphone use on parenting a multiverse analysis’.

This study was a joint effort with the national public broadcaster in Australia the ABC. We ran a national study of smartphone use in families, we’ve received feedback from almost 4,000 parents around their uses of smartphones, the quality of the parent-child relationship and factors associated with technovarian, so the extent to which there was conflict in the families around parent smartphone use and the extent to which parents were perhaps missing out on time with their children due to their smartphone use. And we took a different tact in the study relative to previous research in that this was a purely exploratory approach, so previous research has generally taken a confirmatory approach and come up questions around parenting and technology use, smartphone use, from a risk perspective presuming that there’s going to be problems and and looking in that area for evidence to support that idea.

Here we took a much broader approach and and and asked the extent to which uh relations between smartphone use and parent child relationship outcomes were weak versus robust to really get a clearer picture about what’s happening, coming out this from the idea that there’s probably some good stuff happening as well we know that smartphones gave us access to supports to information even just sometimes needed distraction and we wanted to ask that question in a sample that was large enough where we could get a decent sense of what might be happening.

We took an approach in the multiverse analysis where we ran 84 different analyses and what we did is we had 14 different ways we might characterize smartphone use among parents and two outcomes for parent-child relationship quality, and we when we looked across these 14 different ways of thinking about smartphone use from parents we found very little evidence that there was an association, correlation, between parents phone use and parent child outcomes, suggesting very weak evidence in that effect.

Where we did find some interesting and more robust findings was around this question of does it depends an interaction effect and in this case we wondered if it would depend on the extent to which there was family conflict around parents smartphone use and the extent to which parents were perhaps losing out on time with their child due to smartphone use.

What we found though countered perhaps many expectations was that as long as parents kept that conflict to a minimum as long as they kept that displacement from their time with children to a minimum more parental smartphone use was associated with higher, not lower, parent-child relationship quality and what we’ve got here in this figure is effect sizes so anything where the confidence intervals don’t across the horizontal line they are highlighted in blue gives you a sense of the effects and those are all around those interaction effects and again that most robust finding was without you know these low levels of tech displacement we actually find positive associations, not negative, between parents use of smartphones and parent-child relationship quality.

So really this is a call for greater nuance in our questions, stepping back from assumptions of problems and risks, thinking about how diverse families are diverse in the ways they use technology including smartphones, diverse in our access to these technologies, and the ways that technologies, including smartphones, in particular might be used to better support parents especially in times of stress.

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