North Texas Daily

Student studies technology’s toll on children

Student studies technology’s toll on children

Student studies technology’s toll on children
November 05
22:57 2014

Kayleigh Bywater / Intern Writer

It was a normal, sunny afternoon as UNT student Cory Kildare sat at a park and enjoyed her surroundings. She noticed a young child on the swing, motionless but ready to go. Behind him, his mom was texting away on her iPhone, oblivious to his cries of “Push me, mommy!” and “I’m ready to swing high!”

Kildare, an educational psychology doctoral student, said she was shocked by what she had witnessed. Although this child reached out for affection from his mother, she was transfixed on her technology instead.

“At first, I just thought to myself that maybe the mom was just really busy with work,” she said. “However, I then started noticing parents being more and more distracted on their phones.”

This sparked a question for Kildare. With a concentration in human developmental studies, she became interested in how parents affect their children when they use their technology rather than being emotionally available.

To answer her question, Kildare is conducting research that will analyze the parent-child relationship when technology is involved.

A study develops

Kildare began by looking closely for situations that mirrored what she had witnessed at the park. She started noticing a bigger issue than what she initially realized, and felt as though this problem was overlooked.

“Being a researcher, I wanted to see what research had to say about technologically distracted parents,” Kildare said. “To my surprise, there was not any. I felt like this clearly justified me to conduct a study on this issue. I wanted to learn more about how this was affecting children now and for the rest of their lives.”

Because of the lack of research on this subject matter, Kildare felt it was necessary to begin viewing how infants were reacting to lack of attention, especially due to the fact that they were still in the developing stages of life.

“The early interactions that infants face with their primary caregiver sort of set up our expectations for all of our future relationships,” Kildare said. “If children are neglected, how do they react to that and how does this issue affect them later on in life?”

UNT graduate Suzanne Dotson recently became a mother to a baby boy. When she heard about the study, she was intrigued by what Kildare was trying to ultimately get at, and felt this issue needed to be brought to light.

“I feel like parents who ignore their children to focus on technology really have an affect on their child,” Dotson said. “I imagine that kids will feel like a burden to their parents when their parents should be the child’s No. 1 source for everything in life.”

Conducting the experiment

Beginning this month, Kildare plans to begin collecting a sample of mothers and their infants, ranging in ages three to six months, to participate in her study. 

Kildare has come up with an experiment that will allow her to see how infants react to their mothers spending time on their phones.

Initially, the mom would play with the baby like normal. Then, the mom would pull out her phone, interrupting the interaction. Kildare would then have the mom repeat the play interaction. Each cycle would last for approximately two minutes.

Kildare’s graduate advisor and associate professor Wendy Middlemiss will help conduct the trials.   

“I feel like Cory is trying to figure out if this is distressing to infants, or if it is not bothersome at all,” Middlemiss said. “She would then be able to help inform families about the implications that this issue could have on their child’s development.” 

Throughout the experiment, Kildare will be looking for signs that would help lead her to a conclusion. She will use a modification of an experiment called “still face,” shows the infant’s behavioral reaction to the social interaction with the mother. 

“I am video recording my trials to look at the infant’s behavior,” Kildare said. “I’ll look for certain things like ‘Is the baby crying or happy,’ facial expressions, vocalizations, or if they are engaging in self-soothing behaviors such as sucking their thumb. With this, I will immediately be able to see the infant’s change in emotion.”

Along with using the still face technique, Kildare will also collect a saliva sample from the infant in order to look at inward signs of stress the baby might be experiencing. She will focus on the hormone cortisol, which is released in response to stress.

The end result

When her study ends around March, Kildare hopes to submit her findings for publication. She also wants to get the information out to parents in a variety of ways, including blogs, the Internet and follow-up stories with news outlets.

“I do not think that the outcome will be that cell phones are horrible and that we should never use them,” Kildare said. “Technology can be a great thing for parents and may help them become accustomed to parenthood through apps and communication. However, they need to ask themselves, ‘How do babies perceive this’ and ‘how will this affect them in the long run?’”

Although Kildare is not yet sure what answers she will find with her study, she said that she is excited to share her findings with the world.

“I feel like this is a very integral first step in understanding the implications that this issue could have on children everywhere in this technological age,” she said.

Featured Illustration by Edward Balusek – Visuals Editor

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