Interactional theory of childhood problematic media use

Sarah E. Domoff, Aubrey L. Borgen, Jenny S. Radesky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The growth of mobile device access and ownership has yielded many opportunities and challenges for raising healthy digital media consumers. As adoption of mobile and internet-connected devices has increased among children, concerns for healthy child development have been expressed regarding excessive or problematic use. Although much theoretical and empirical work has been conducted evaluating adolescents' and adults' risks for dependence on various screen media (e.g., Gaming Disorder, Internet Addiction), little theoretical consideration has been expounded regarding the etiology and maintenance of problematic media use earlier in childhood (i.e., under age 12 years). The purpose of this paper is to propose a theoretical framework through which to investigate problematic media use in early childhood. Our theory, the Interactional Theory of Childhood Problematic Media Use (IT-CPU) merges developmental and clinical psychology theories, with communication and human-computer interaction perspectives. We outline distal and proximal factors that we hypothesize contribute to the development of problematic media use in childhood, and emphasize maintaining factors that could be targets for intervention. Finally, we provide recommendations for an interdisciplinary research agenda to test our proposed theory and inform experimental trials to prevent and treat childhood problematic media use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-353
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Behavior and Emerging Technologies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • addiction
  • childhood
  • mobile device
  • parent
  • persuasive design
  • problematic
  • theory


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