Vital research into phone habits and the impact on mental health

Last Modified: 10/01/2021

phone habits

We live in a world filled with technology where people are more connected than ever, due in large part to the many advancements in the field. Unfortunately, while these improvements have helped make positive change worldwide, they have also come with a host of adverse effects with their overuse, contributing to mental and physical health issues for adults and children alike.

Noticing this trend, Brandon McDaniel, PhD, research scientist, Parkview Mirro Center for Research & Innovation, and his co-investigators Jessica Pater, PhD, and Michelle Drouin, PhD, Health Services and Informatics Research team, Connie Kerrigan, director of Community Support Services, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute and Jenny Radesky, MD, University of Michigan, decided to take action.

Recently, Brandon and his team were awarded a $322,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). This funding will aid Brandon’s research to examine the phone habits of parents of infants and develop programming that encourages healthy digital habits.

“This grant is especially notable as it’s the first NIH grant awarded to Parkview,” Tammy Toscos, PhD, director of Health Services and Informatics Research, Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, said. “Only a small fraction of applications for NIH grants receive funding, and we’re extremely excited for the doors this will open for Dr. McDaniel and Parkview as a whole.”

Their focus

Brandon and the research team have chosen to concentrate on families of infants and the need to begin healthy habits early in life, focusing on phone use due to the prevalence of devices in our everyday lives. Their research will help support the development of data- and parent-informed programming, which will help parents of infants foster healthy caregiving.

“Phone use has become quite common during parenting and family interactions, and this can sometimes negatively impact the quality of care and bonding that infants and children experience. This is especially true if parents are often distracted or absorbed by device use during the time they are spending with their infant,” Brandon said. “Infants need their parent’s or caregiver’s responsiveness and sensitivity in order to develop a healthy and secure attachment as well as the ability to regulate their emotions effectively. This development can have important ramifications for children’s mental health, academic performance and relationship quality as they grow older.”

What they hope to accomplish

The NIH grant will enable Brandon and his team to conduct a two-year study of roughly 250 parents of infants, with the goal of better understanding parents’ phone use relative to their mental health. Research methods will include:

  • Surveys
  • Measurement of phone use
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups

Ultimately, this study will provide valuable information necessary to understand the phone use of parents and caregivers of infants and, in turn, help them develop healthier digital habits.

“We need to better understand parents, their phone use, what leads to this phone use, and the good and the bad surrounding it,” Brandon continued. “Certain types of phone use, such as using late at night, so sleep is missed, may have negative impacts on a parent’s mental health. However, there may be other times when the phone use assists the parent and improves the caregiving environment, such as when reaching out for support during stressful parenting moments. Our team wants to better understand the good and the bad, and hope to improve these important early caregiving moments, setting infants and families up for healthier and happier lives over time.”


This project is supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R21NR019402. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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