At the end of each term, I ask my Intro Psych students for their top ten list of important concepts they learned in the course. Last fall, interestingly, none of my students put parenting styles in their top ten lists. This term, a quarter of my students did. The only difference between those classes is that this term I asked my students to read an Atlantic article on distracted parenting (Christakis, 2018).
In our coverage of development I asked students, after they had read the article, whether they thought this is a new “parenting style” or if it fits one of the existing four: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, or neglectful. (Most students called it neglectful, but many weren’t quite ready to go all the way there and called it a “new branch” or a “type” of neglectful parenting.)
The article makes for an excellent discussion starter for small groups after you’ve covered parenting styles in class. The discussion of the impact distracted parenting has on children will be meaningful to students since you would have just covered child development.
Later when you cover operant conditioning – if you haven’t already done so – you can refer back to this section of the article.
Young children will do a lot to get a distracted adult’s attention, and if we don’t change our behavior, they will attempt to do it for us; we can expect to see a lot more tantrums as today’s toddlers age into school. But eventually, children may give up (Christakis, 2018)
If the adult drops the phone and attends to the child’s tantrum, the child’s tantrum behavior has been positively reinforced by getting attention, and the adult’s dropping-the-phone behavior has been negatively reinforced by stopping the tantrum. If the adult’s phone is more attention-grabbing than the child’s tantrum, then the adult will ignore the child. The result? Extinction. The child will no longer throw tantrums – or, perhaps, any other behavior that is a plea for adult attention.
The author of the article cites two research studies. If you’d like to challenge your students’ research skills, ask them to find those studies. The study that took place in Philadelphia is a pretty easy find because the article’s author gives us the names of the researchers. The Boston research article is a little more challenging because we don’t have clues to the citation. I don’t want to give the reference here because it would make it too easy for your Googling students to find. I can give you a hint, however: it was published in 2014 in a highly-respected peer-reviewed journal. And, if you email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), I would be happy to send you either or both references – as long as I don’t think you’re a student.
If you’d like to extend this activity, ask students to assess how well the article’s author did at describing those studies. Did the author hit the important high points? Was there other information in the research articles that would be important for a reader of The Atlantic to know?
Christakis, E. (2018). The dangers of distracted parenting. Retrieved August 29, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/