Mobile screen technologies, such as smartphones and tablets, permeate the lives of most U.S. families with young children (Common Sense Media, 2017). However, very little is known about the role these technologies play on the quality of interactions between caregivers and their young children, and even less is known about parents’ beliefs of these technologies. Specifically, scarce research has explored parents’ beliefs about how these devices both support and hinder their parenting experiences and their children’s learning, particularly among parents from ethnic minorities, such as Latino mothers and fathers. Therefore, this dissertation focuses on exploring the associations between mobile screen technologies and the quality of caregiver-child interactions, and on investigating socioeconomically diverse Latino parents’ beliefs about the ways mobile screen technologies have supported and/or hindered their parenting and young children’s learning.
Study 1 focused on understanding whether caregiver use of a mobile screen device was related to the quality of interactions they had with their young child (i.e. joint attention, talk, positive emotion, initiating interactions, responding to the child) in public settings. To address this question, two researchers anonymously and systematically observed and coded the behavior of 98 caregiver-child dyads during naturally occurring interactions in public settings across low and middle-high income neighborhoods. Findings showed that caregiver use of mobile devices was negatively associated with joint attention, caregivers’ talk to their child, caregivers’ display of positive emotions, and caregivers’ initiation of interactions with their children. However, caregivers’ use of a mobile device was not significantly associated with caregiver responsiveness to the child, children’s talk or displays of positive emotions. Furthermore, when looking at the specific ways caregivers used their mobile device, we found that looking at the screen was positively associated with most components of quality interaction compared to activities involving more fine motor use such as texting or swiping. Finally, we also found that a higher proportion of device use by caregivers and their children was significantly associated with a lower proportion of most of the key components of high quality interactions.
Study 2 focused on understanding how a socioeconomically and linguistically diverse sample of Latino mothers (n = 20) and fathers (n = 20) with young children (0-4 years) believed mobile screen devices supported and/or hindered their parenting experiences. A total of seven themes emerged, capturing the ways mobile screen devices had served as a support (i.e. access to information, social support access, parent-child bonding, facilitates teaching), hindrance (i.e. disrupts parent-child interactions), or both (i.e. child behavior management, parental psychological effects) for parents. However, although most of these themes were spread across diverse parents, a few differences by parent gender, language, and income, but primarily by parent education, emerged.
Study 3 used the sample of parents from study 2 to investigate how these parents believed mobile screen devices had supported and/or hindered their children’s learning. Findings showed that one major theme emerged centering on parents’ opinions about the types of mediation practices (i.e. monitoring content, setting time limits, co-using of the device) they believed contributed to mobile devices being beneficial or detrimental towards children’s learning.
Collectively, these three studies suggest that mobile screen devices can both negatively and positively contribute to the quality of family interactions, parenting experiences, and parents’ perceptions of children’s learning among diverse families, depending on how the device is used. Therefore, future work on mobile screen technologies should go beyond just observing or asking questions about whether a device was used or not and focus on the specific ways devices are used and how that use relates to parenting practices, parent-child interactions and positive and negative learning outcomes.