Maternal Mental Representations of the Child and Mobile Phone Use During Parent-Child Mealtimes

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018 May;39(4):310-317. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000556.


Objective: Qualities of the parent-child relationship have not been explored as predictors of parent mobile device use during parent-child activities.

Methods: In 195 mother-child dyads enrolled in an ongoing cohort study, maternal mental representations of their child (ability to reflect on their child's characteristics, emotional state, and their parenting role) were evaluated through the Working Model of the Child Interview (WMCI), a validated semistructured interview. WMCI scale scores were examined as predictors of active maternal mobile device use during parent-child eating encounters (videotaped home mealtimes and a structured laboratory-based protocol) in multivariate logistic regression models.

Results: Children were aged 5.9 years (SD: 0.7), mothers were aged 31.5 years (SD: 7.4), and 73.3% of mothers were of white non-Hispanic race/ethnicity. During the family mealtime, 47 (24.1%) mothers actively used a mobile device at least once, whereas during the structured eating protocol, 44 (22.6%) mothers used a device. Controlling for maternal race/ethnicity, education level, and child's sex, WMCI subscales were associated with device use during home mealtimes (higher Child Difficulty) and the eating protocol (higher Child Difficulty and lower Richness of Perceptions and Caregiving Sensitivity).

Conclusion: Maternal mental representations of their child were significantly associated with using mobile devices during eating encounters. More research studies are needed to understand directionality and longer-term associations between mobile device use and parent-child relationship characteristics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Phone Use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Feeding Behavior* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior* / psychology
  • Mother-Child Relations* / psychology
  • Parenting* / psychology
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult