Technology, Fathers, and Bonding: Research on why we need to put the phone down


Bonding is a “set of behaviors” that assist in creating an “emotional connection” necessary for humans to “survive, learn, work, love, and procreate” (Perry, 2016). Fathers bonding with their young is an important aspect of a child’s emotional and developmental growth. Early bonding and involvement by fathers has been proven through multiple studies to reduce the cognitive delays and increase the cognitive growth of a child (Parfitt et al., 2014). Nevertheless, many fathers do not experience bonding with their children until later when the child is in mid to late toddlerhood, especially when the infant is primarily breastfed or stays at home with the mother daily, though this is not the only factor (Mithani, 2015). Fathers in many studies report feelings of being unprepared for fatherhood, contributing to not making an immediate bond with the infant (Benzies et al., 2008); however, children whose fathers were highly engaged prenatally and in the first few months of life “demonstrated better language development at 18 months of age,” better temperament, and less behavioral problems than those whose fathers were not active, less active, or not present (Magill-Evans & Harrison, 1999; Benzies et al., 2008).


The factors that constitute fatherhood have been, for many scholars, hard to pin down. The roles of the father change with each generation; Doherty et al. (1998) says “each generation molds its cultural ideal of fathers according to its own time and conditions, and each deals with the inevitable gap between what LaRossa (1998) terms the ‘culture’ of fatherhood and the ‘conduct’ of fathers in families” (1998), but still there are underlying parts that each generation agrees makes up a “good father.” In recent literature, this has been defined as a man who spends time in non-caregiving activities, avoids harm by voluntarily distancing himself from the child when in the child’s best interest, acknowledges paternity, spends money on gifts and activities, monitors the child’s home for trouble, and minimizes absences in the child’s life (Myers, 2013). This definition encourages bonding between the father and child; nevertheless, actions speak louder than words, with 25% of families with children under 18 being maintained by mothers alone as early as 2014 (Solomon-Fears, 2016). However, the relationship between a father and child has been proven to be vital to a child’s success in life. Leech et al. (2013) found vocabulary development in children is related to the bond between father and child, as the child is challenged by the father’s more complicated speech pattern. The bond is necessary for this cognitive development, yet research shows an alarming rate of one-parent homes (Solomon-Fears, 2016) and a recent influx of technology use as ‘babysitters’ for children as young as 3 days old (Rowan, 2013). Much of the research has centered on the bond between a father and child who cohabitate with the mother; however, as the millennial generation (18-35) begins to have children, it is necessary to investigate how technology is changing the role of the father, how fathers use media and technology to develop a bond with their young, and how this changed bond effects the child in the longer run as devices and gadgets rapidly replace parents and become the “soother and opiate” for the child begotten from the millennial generation (Rowan, 2013).

Father Using Mobile Phone On Bus Journey With Son

Currently, there is a large body of literature related to mother/child and parent/child bonding, with a decent amount of literature focused at the bond between a father and child from the angle of low-income fathers, incarcerated fathers, well-educated fathers, African-American fathers, fathers who cohabitate but are not married to the child’s mother, fathers who do not and have not cohabitated with the child, fathers who live far away from the child, fathers who cohabitated with the child at birth but moved out during infancy or early childhood, fathers who are married and cohabite with the child and mother, and remarried fathers or step-fathers. Through this wealth of research, definitions of what constitutes fatherhood have evolved: for low-income or non-cohabitating fathers, “a responsible father [is] someone who: spent time with the child on non-caregiving tasks; avoided harming the child by distancing from the child when needed; acknowledged paternity to himself; the child, the mother, and the extralegal community; spent money on gifts, joint activities, and special needs and met the child’s financial needs before his own luxuries; monitored the child’s home for danger; and minimized the number and duration of absences” (Myers, 2013). Fathers who cohabitate or are married to the mother of the infant feel much the same way, except add that “[fathers] are expected: to be present in the home and involved in the children’s lives, to keep contact with and be sensitive to their child’s needs (including being able to put the child’s needs before their own), to value family time (e.g. above work and leisure) and generally be part of family time” (Henwood&Procter, 2003).


Many of the studies found high benefits of early bonding between father and infant. Early father involvement led children to higher vocabulary and language development (Leech et al., 2013; Benies et al., 2008), increased academic success, lowered behavioral problems, and increased positive behavior (Marsiglio et al., 2000).

Throughout many of these studies, research also found the bond between father and child to be beneficial in many ways to not only the baby, but also the father. Fathers, no matter the class, race, or income level, “undergo a reorientation of values and behavior in response to the influence of their children” (Daly, Ashbourne & Brown, 2013). The fathers reposition and redefine their priorities, heightening their sense of purpose and redefining what it means to be a man or of manhood (Daly, Ashborne, & Brown, 2013). With the birth of a child (most research centered on the birth of the first child), fathers who cohabitate were found to go through an engrossment period, helping to strengthen the desire for a bond with their infant (Greenberg & Morris, 1974), yet many fathers bumped against feelings of inadequacy, regarding “mothers as more essential in the infants’ life than the fathers themselves” (Helth & Jarden, 2013) and causing a deviation or distancing from the infant until a later age, prolonging the bonding period.

Currently, as a new generation of fathers emerge, the definitions and concepts found in this prior research, though still relevant, are changing by adding in factors, such as a flood of daily gadget use, that have never before been looked at through the lens of father/child bonding and connection. Silva (2010) states that the “home is a site of rapidly increasing technologization,” seen in the many gadgets and gizmos that follow humans around on a daily basis, from cell phones, iPads, and laptops to the increase in baby-specific gadgets that entertain infants. Turkle (2012) in his study on “caring technologies” argued that the influx of “technologies that assist with mundane caring tasks of the very young, old, or infirm are one of the fastest growing areas for technological innovation” today (2012). Millennial fathers have grown up with these technologies, using devices for a large part, if not all, of their lives. These millennial fathers, as seen in Bettany et al.’s study, show the consumption of technology as a natural response for coping with the many stresses of fatherhood, especially as a new, young father (Bettany et al., 2014). Garlick (2010) states something similar found in her study; she “argues that society culturally views technology as an escape from the material, particularly from the constraints of the body and human relations” (2010). Furthermore, Garlick goes on to assert that the act of caring is seen by other humans through bodily connections (2010). Technology is hastily replacing the bodily connection, with many parents admitting in one study that connecting online or to the gaming worlds is more desirable than connecting on a bodily or human level, “showing one in three parents prefer using technology to playing with their child” (Rowan, 2013).


The questions left unanswered in research regarding the general topic of bonding and technology, and more specifically the bonding between millennial fathers and infants and technology, is how this technology is communicatively effecting the bond between father and infant. Babies begin learning, according to many studies, in the womb. Once in the world, how and with what technology is the father bonding and communicating that bond with their infant when 40 out of 50 parents were observed using phones and other technology while dining at a restaurant (Radesky et al., 2014)? Bonding is communicating, yet technology has been proven in many instances to create a lack of bonding or physical communication. Is this also how fathers are raising children, and if so, then how does this effect the child? Studies show that infants whose fathers are highly active from the beginning have higher cognitive development than those whose fathers are less active or not active. Does this mean infants who interact and bond with fathers through or on technology will suffer? And what does that mean for the future generation being raised by these millennial fathers?


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Doherty, W. J., Kouneski, E. F., & Erickson, M. F. (1998). Responsible Fathering: An Overview and Conceptual Framework. Journal of Marriage and Family, (2). 277.

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Rowan, Chris. (2008). Babies and Technology – What we know, but refuse to accept. Moving to learn: Exploring the Effects of Technology on Children.

Silva, E. B. (2010). Technology, culture, family: Influences on the home. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Solomon-Fears, C. (2016). Fatherhood Initiatives: Connecting Fathers to Their Children. Congressional Research Service: Report, 1-29.

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Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York, NY: Perseus Books.


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