Parents’ Social Uses of Mobile Phones in Public Places: The Case of Eateries in Two National Contexts

Nelly Elias, Dafna Lemish


Given the growing salience of mobile phones that impact various aspects of family life, this study examines how parents use mobile phones in public places and whether the typology of structural and relational media uses applies to these circumstances. This topic is explored through the case of eateries, selected for their popularity among families with young children. Adopting an ethnographic approach, we conducted unobtrusive observations of 125 families with young children 2 to 6 years of age in two national contexts: the United States and Israel. Our findings demonstrate that mobile phones were used by parents above and beyond their basic communicative functions. We identified six such uses: Structural uses include the digital “playpen,” “bottle,” and “pacifier”; whereas relational uses include the digital “bubble,” “bond,” and “stage.” In contrast to the earlier typology, however, we found that, given the unique affordances of the mobile phone, the distinction between structural and relational uses is more blurred.


mobile phone, social uses, parents, children, public places, observations

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