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Nearly half of all parents feel guilty about playground cell phone use

"Concerns on this topic are very prevalent, and a lot of people report feeling guilty about their own behaviors," lead author Alexis Hiniker said.

By Brooks Hays
Nearly half of all parents feel guilty about playground cell phone use
A woman uses her smartphone. (UPI/Shutterstock/Skylines)

SEATTLE, May 18 (UPI) -- Parents know they're too often distracted. And they don't feel good about it. New research suggests parents don't always live up to their standards of supervision at the local playground.

A study by researchers at the University of Washington finds nearly half (44 percent) of all parents, nannies and adult babysitters think it's important to limit cell phone use while supervising young ones at the playground -- yet also fail to abide by their own ideals. For that reason, many parents feel guilty.

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It's not the first study to document cell phone use by supervisors and guardians. But it is the first to interview the subjects after doing so. In doing so, researchers found parent's proud of their behavior, but that boredom simply trumps principles.

Guilt nor fear of being judged by nearby parents was enough to keep most parents from momentarily ignoring the kids to refresh their inbox.

Researchers watched more than 40 hours of child-caretaker interactions at playgrounds in Seattle, and interviewed 466 adult caregivers whose behavior had been observed. They shared their results at the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) CHI conference, held last month in Seoul, South Korea.

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Most parents felt that they ceased smartphone use when their children asked to play or needed help, but evidence suggests caregivers overestimate their ability to refocus their attention away from their phones.

Researchers noted 32 times when children attempted to get the attention of a phone-using parent or caretaker. In more than half of those instances, the parent or caretaker failed to respond. During the 70 times researchers noted children attempting to interrupt caretakers from non-phone distractions -- speaking to another parent, for example -- only 10 percent of the time did the adult not respond.

But not everyone felt guilty about their playground phone habits. Nearly a quarter of interviewed parents didn't believe there was anything wrong with checking email or surfing the web while the kids played.

"Concerns on this topic are very prevalent, and a lot of people report feeling guilty about their own behaviors," lead author Alexis Hiniker, a doctoral student in Washington's human centered design and engineering department, explained in a press release. "But there's also a group who resents the idea that they should have to put their phones away when their child is safe and happily engaged in something else. There were strong opinions and very divergent opinions, for sure."

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While researchers said that problem of distracted parenting is often exaggerated, previous studies have suggested playground injuries have risen as mobile technology has become a prominent part of daily life.

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