Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 401–410 | Cite as

A Naturalistic Study of Child and Family Screen Media and Mobile Device Use

  • Sarah E. DomoffEmail author
  • Jenny S. Radesky
  • Kristen Harrison
  • Hurley Riley
  • Julie C. Lumeng
  • Alison L. Miller
Original Paper


Parental mediation of screen media (e.g., television, video games) is associated with better outcomes for children. Although much research has examined parental mediation of television (TV), there is a dearth of research examining communication about mobile media (e.g., Smartphones, tablets) in the digital age. This study seeks to identify themes of family communication around media and mobile devices using naturalistic observational methodology. The sample consisted of 21 toddlers (ages 12–24-months old), 31 preschool-age children (3–5 years old), and 23 school-age (10–13 years old) children and their families. Children wore Language ENvironment Analysis (LENA) audio recording devices, which recorded vocalizations and other sounds proximal to the child wearing the device in the home environment, as well as audible screen media use. ATLAS.ti was used to transcribe dialogue from the audio recordings that pertained to screen media. Experts from the fields of communication, clinical child psychology, and developmental-behavioral pediatrics independently analyzed the transcripts to identify common themes. Five main themes emerged. First, parental mediation of screen media was primarily restrictive, reactive, and focused on technology functionality. Second, active mediation was child-driven. Third, siblings played a more dominant role in mediation than parents. Fourth, parents and children negotiated screen time limits. Finally, parallel family media use was common. Multiple family members engaged with their own mobile devices while simultaneously being exposed to background screen media (i.e., media multitasking). Assessing media use in the naturalistic home environment elucidated current patterns of family media use and communication about media in the digital age.


Media Mobile devices Parental mediation Media multitasking Naturalistic Parenting 


Author Contributions

S.D.: designed and executed the study, assisted with data analyses, and wrote the paper. J.R.: assisted with the data analyses and contributed to writing the Results and Discussion. K.H.: assisted with the data analyses and contributed to writing the Results and Discussion. H.R.: assisted with data analyses and contributed to writing the Introduction. J.L.: assisted with the design, analysis, and writing of the paper. A.M.: designed and collaborated with the execution of the study and writing of the paper.


All phases of this study were supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant number R03HD083656 and The Momentum Center and the MCubed program at the University of Michigan. Additionally, Dr. Domoff was supported by a National Research Service Award from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; grant number F32HD085684).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

S.D., K.H., H.R., J.L. & A.M. declare that they have no conflict of interest. Dr. Radesky is paid to write for PBS Parents.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from participants in the study (see Methods section for complete parent consent and participant assent details).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCentral Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA
  2. 2.Center for Human Growth and DevelopmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of PediatricsUniversity of Michigan Medical SchoolAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Department of Communication StudiesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  5. 5.Department of Health Behavior and Health EducationUniversity of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA
  6. 6.Department of Nutritional SciencesUniversity of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA

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