Cell phone usage may be a good indicator of the quality of the relationship between parents and teenagers, according to a recent study, a sign of the complications that mobile communication can add to parenting.
According to research on how cell phone use affects the parent-child dynamic, published online in the journal “Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking,” the quality of the overall relationship is likely not good if the majority of parents’ calls to their children deal with behavioral reminders.
“What I found generally was that when adolescents are initiating the communication and are seeking out social support and guidance from their parents, then almost across the board they tend to have better reports of getting along with their parents,” said Dr. Robert Weisskirch, author of the research report.
On the other hand, when parents were initiating calls frequently to monitor their children’s whereabouts, track their homework or tell them they were upset, there was more conflict in the relationship and the teenagers tended to have lower self-esteem.
The research involved nearly 200 parents and their children, who filled out questionnaires about their relationship to give researchers a basis to evaluate its quality. Both parents and teen children then kept track of their cell phone calls to each other, categorizing them into groups.
Teenagers determined if calls asked permission, sought advice or shared good news, while parents determined if their calls checked whereabouts, tracked schoolwork, sought updates or expressed anger or dissatisfaction with the teenager.
The study states the cell phone is just another communication tool and it reflects, rather than determines, the state of the relationship. Nearly 75 percent of adolescents have mobile devices and a recent education study reported that parents generally support their use and will often buy children cell phones if they are permitted in schools.
The researchers concluded that while it may seem counter-intuitive, frequent calls from the parent can be negative, especially if they are anxious and worried and call frequently to monitor and discipline rather to communicate and touch base. In short, the hard work of parenting, it seems, is not well-suited to cell phones.
Weisskirch has some suggestions for parents on how to keep in touch without smothering, advising parents to be very clear about their expectations on how often the teenager should make contact, and to establish some ground rules, like deciding that not answering a parent’s call isn’t an option.
“The adolescent needs to know what’s expected of them, and how they’re supposed to use this technology that has crept into our lives,” he said.