This was not a scientific study, Radesky is quick to point out. It was more like anthropological observation, complete with detailed field notes. Forty of the 55 parents used a mobile device during the meal and many, she says, were more absorbed in the device than in the kids.

Radesky says that’s a big mistake, because face-to-face interactions are the primary way children learn. “They learn language, they learn about their own emotions, they learn how to regulate them,” she says. “They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones.”

And, perhaps not surprisingly, when Radesky looked at the patterns in what she and the other researchers observed, she found that kids with parents who were most absorbed in their devices were more likely to act out, in an effort to get their parents attention. She recalls one group of three boys and their father: The father was on his cell phone and the boys were singing a song repetitively and acting silly. When the boys got too loud, the father looked up from his phone and shouted at them to stop. But that only made the boys sing louder and act sillier.