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The Mere Presence of Mobile Phones During Parent-Teen Interactions

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In a mixed-methods approach of experimental and qualitative methods this dissertation examines the effects of the mere presence of mobile phones during parent-teen interactions and explores the role of mobile phones in everyday family life. Experimental design was a modification of previous works studying adult dyadic interpersonal interactions in the presence of mobile phones. Experimental data on the reported experiences of conversation quality, conversation closeness, and conversation partner listening in the presence or absence of mobile phones (parents’ phone, childs’ phone, both phones, stranger’s phone, and no phone) provide empirical insight into current academic and social narratives that mobile phones are damaging interpersonal relationships. Results suggest that the mere presence or absence of mobile phones does not produce significant effects for parents’ or teens’ reported conversation quality or conversation partner listening. However, the mere presence of mobile phones did coincide with a significant decline in parents’ reported conversation closeness when mobile phone saturation was high (both child and parent’s phone present). Interview findings suggest that this difference could be representative of natural distancing that occurs during adolescence and that phones can become a symbol of teens’ increased independence. Qualitative data regarding the role of mobile phones in family life suggests that both parents’ and teens’ possess widespread concerns of mobile phone use. I trace the origin of these concerns to mobile phone addiction narratives and explore how internalization of such media messaging could have an effect on individual well-being and family dynamics. I also explore how mobile phone concerns were reported during parent-teen descriptions of conflict and analyze the processes of parent-teen mobile phone conflict. From these data, I develop a model of parent-teen conflict to inform future work on mobile phone conflict mediation. This study has implications for parent-teen dynamics around technology use in the home and calls for the creation of more robust metrics designed to assess mobile phone use.

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