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

Sarah E. Domoff, Jenny S. Radesky, Kristen Harrison, Hurley Riley, Julie C. Lumeng, Alison L. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-410
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 15 2019


  • Media
  • Media multitasking
  • Mobile devices
  • Naturalistic
  • Parental mediation
  • Parenting


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