Methods: A systematic content comprehensiveness and user rating analysis of mobile applications was conducted between January 1, 2019 and January 16, 2020 with multiple coders for each application, and an additional dual coder review taking place on January 16, 2020. Criteria for inclusion required the app to be in the English language, focused on parenting children ages 0-18 in the United States, and free to access. To generalize the results, search terms including “father,” “fathering,” “parenting,” “fatherhood,” “fathers,” “dad” and “parent” were used in both computer based and mobile based searches within the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. The analysis included four domains: 1) general information; 2) intended audience; 3) father interventions; and 4) evidence-based factors related to fathering including theoretical dimensions of paternal self-efficacy.
Results: Through the systematic review of included applications (n = 65), those with an intended audience of fathers were nearly nonexistent (n = 1), while the remaining apps included information for both mothers and fathers (n = 64). On average apps contained content pertaining to one dimension of paternal self-efficacy (m = 1.23, SD = 1.01), with no apps containing all four dimensions. Evidence based factors related to low income father engagement were under represented, including limited information about parenting stress (29.2%; n = 19), mental health of the father (18.5%, n = 12) or mental health of the child (20.0%, n = 13), substance abuse (3.1%, n = 2), co-parenting relationships (18.5%; n = 12), financial stability (6.2%, n = 4) or income (4.6%, n = 3). No mobile applications were specifically tailored to culturally diverse father populations. Factors related to low-income fathers were among the lowest factors present within application content. While no paternal self-efficacy dimensions were associated with user rating, a regression analysis of dimensions of evidence-based factors indicated that content related to parenting stress (β = .540, p = .005) and the co-parenting (β = -.552, p = .001) were associated with user rating.
Conclusions and Implications: The systematic review of mobile based applications revealed an overall deficiency of content related to diversity with limited content tailored specifically to vulnerable, low-income fathers. Mobile applications can be advantageous tools for supplying this unique population with evidence-based information and education regarding parenting. Low-income fathers may benefit from scientifically informed information available via mobile apps which could help to mitigate risk factors that may otherwise limit healthy interactions with their children.