Medical School professor discusses impact of technology on child development

Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 5:21pm

Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics, discusses mobile device measurement approaches during a lecture in North Quad Thursday afternoon.

Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics, discusses mobile device measurement approaches during a lecture in North Quad Thursday afternoon. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Approximately 15 students and faculty gathered in North Quad Thursday afternoon to hear Jenny Radesky, Medical School assistant professor, share her research on the effects of technology and media usage on child development.

Radesky, who received her M.D. at Harvard Medical School, specializes in developmental behavioral pediatrics. She has trained at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center.

Radesky began her talk by discussing her research interests in parental influence on their children’s use of technology.

“I was interested in how media fits into this situation: parents’ technology use and child technology use,” Radesky said. “I was really influenced by the research on background TV and parent-child interaction.”

Radesky said she chose to study mobile technology as opposed to traditional technology because it has been studied much less and she was curious about its effects. She said  she wanted to know what happens when media is in your pocket.

Scott Campbell, Communication and Media professor, moderated the event. He said he chose to showcase her work because it is unique to her department and impacts many community members.

“I chose to host (Radesky) because of a mixture of her scholarship that fits with what we have going on,” Campbell said. “But there is also an applied aspect of her work that we don’t always get a chance to benefit from. Some of us are parents and very curious about the work that she does and how she does it.”

Through observational studies, Radesky found that 75 percent of families used a device during meal times and and tended to have less interaction among family members. Radesky noted this observational study was not about making conclusions, but instead to learn more about what specifically she wanted to study.

After much trial and error, Radesky landed on an application called Moment which tracks a participant’s phone usage. Specifically, it tracks when an app is opened or closed. Her sample consisted of Android and Apple users. 

Radesky found children used YouTube for at least one hour each day, which she said she wants to study further. Her study also found kids used a range of 1 to 85 different apps per week.

After she completed study, she concluded children’s media use varies greatly based on their level of and access to education, but is similar to the parent’s.

Since her study is complete, she said she would like to continue other studies she’ll track over time to look at more than just usage time. Specifically, she wants to look at content, reaction and social context. Radesky said she wants to navigate limiting the burden on the participants and avoiding invading their privacy.

Rackham student Gavin Ploger said he attended the talk because he was interested in learning more about research that is not related to political science, which is his area of study.

“It is nice to hear what people are doing in my field,” Ploger said. “This is not directly related to the research that I do, but it is nice to hear what other people are doing and get out of my research bubble every once in a while.”

Brayden Hirsh can be reached at braydenh@umich.edu