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Today in Your Health, we'll hear how the scribe, an ancient profession, is being revived in doctors' offices. But first, let's hear about how it affects children when the adults around them are absorbed in mobile devices. There's new research showing why that can be bad.

Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Jenny Radesky is a pediatrician specializing in child development. When she worked at a clinic in a high tech savvy Seattle neighborhood, she started noticing how often parents ignored their kids in favor of a mobile device.

JENNY RADESKY: A mom kind of had a phone set up in the stroller, kind of in between her and her baby. And the baby was making like faces and smiles at the mom and she wasn't picking up any of it. She was just watching a YouTube video.

NEIGHMOND: Radesky was so alarmed by what she saw, she decided she wanted to study the behavior further. After relocating to the Boston Medical Center, she and two other researchers spent one summer observing 55 different groups of parents and young children eating at fast food restaurants.

RADESKY: There was a good proportion of caregivers who brought out a device right away, looked at it or, you know, typed or scrolled on it for most of the meal, you know, only putting it down intermittently.

NEIGHMOND: In fact, 40 of the 55 parents used a mobile device during the meal. And many were more absorbed in the device than in the kids - a big mistake, says Radesky.

RADESKY: These face-to-face interactions are primary way that children learn. They learn language, they learn about their own emotions and about how to regulate those emotions. They learn by watching us: how to have a conversation, how to read other people's facial expressions.

NEIGHMOND: And perhaps not surprisingly, when Radesky looked at patterns in what she and the other researchers observed, she found kids with parents who were most absorbed in their devices were more likely to act out trying to get their parents' attention.

RADESKY: You know, there was one with three boys sitting together. They just started to enjoy each other's silliness. They were singing a song repetitively, but the father kept saying, you know: Enough, stop it, stop it. And they just would stop for a little while and then sing it again and louder, and start to kind of mush their bodies into each other. One started climbing over the barrier behind the booth that they were sitting in.

NEIGHMOND: And the father just kept raising his voice, telling them to stop and then going back to his cell phone.

Catherine Steiner Adair is a psychologist in Massachusetts who's written a book about parenting in the digital age and sees lots of parents, teens and younger kids in her clinical practice.

CATHERINE STEINER ADAIR: When you're texting, when you're answering email, the part of your brain that's engaged is sort of the to-do list part of the brain, it often a sense of urgency, and when we are engaged, trying to accomplish something under a time pressure, we're much more irritable when we are interrupted.

NEIGHMOND: And when parents focus on their digital world over their children, Steiner Adair says there can be deep emotional consequences for the child.

ADAIR: We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody or anything or any ping that would suddenly interrupt our time with them.

NEIGHMOND: In research for her recent book, Steiner Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of four and 18, asking them about their parents' mobile device use.

ADAIR: And the language that came up over and over was sad, mad, angry, lonely.

NEIGHMOND: One four-year-old called his dad's Smartphone a stupid phone. Others recalled joyfully throwing their parents' phone into the toilet, putting it in the oven, or hiding it.

ADAIR: And one girl said: I feel like I'm just boring sometimes. I'm just boring my dad because he just will take any call, any text, any time - even on the ski lift.

NEIGHMOND: Steiner Adair says we don't know exactly how much these mini moments of disconnect between a parent and a child affect the child in long-term. But based on the stories she hears, she suggests that parents think twice before they pick up their mobile device when they're with their kids.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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