Sarah E. Domoff, PhD

Clinical Child Psychologist, Expert on Children's Media Use and Problematic Media Use in Adolescents. Director of the Family Health Lab, Central Michigan University

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 4)

Media Mondays: Addictive Phone Use and Academic Outcomes in Adolescents

Addictive Phone Use and Academic Outcomes in Adolescents
Written by Samantha Klunejko, B.A., member of the Family Health Lab and Sarah Domoff, PhD

It’s no secret – smartphones are a prevalent part of modern society, and they are not going away. More specifically, today’s teenagers are often thought of being practically “glued” to their phones. Is it possible that adolescents could become addicted to their smartphone, just like someone could become addicted to food or caffeine? Moreover, how do phone-addicted adolescents fair at school – does phone addiction negatively impact their academic performance? In the research article “Addictive phone use and academic performance in adolescents,” Domoff, Foley, and Ferkel (2019) address these important questions. 

First off, what exactly is addictive phone use? The first aim of Domoff et al.’s (2019) study was to develop and validate an Addictive Patterns of Use (APU) scale to help determine what addictive phone use really is. The researchers utilized the APU by asking middle school and high school students to rate themselves on their phone use tendencies. For example, a student might be asked, “during the last year, how often have there been times when all you could think about was using your phone?” The researchers found the APU scale to be a reliable way of measuring phone addiction. 

Next, does addictive phone use actually affect a student’s academic performance? Domoff et al. (2019) addressed this question by asking students about their general academic grades or academic performance. The researchers then compared these scores with how students scored on the APU scale. They found that addictive phone use was associated with lower academic performance, or lower grades. It wasn’t necessarily how often or how many hours the student spent on his/her phone, but more so the type of “relationship” they had with their phone.

So, what does this all mean? Should educators and parents be especially worried about their kids becoming phone-addicted, in regard to how this might affect academic achievement? While the Domoff et al. (2019) study was rather important within this topic, there is still more research that needs to be done in this area. Future studies should utilize different testing measures, such as using actual school records rather than students’ self-reports of their grades. For now, though, this paper does suggest that addictive phone use is a risk factor that can contribute to poor academic performance among adolescents. In this regard, parents and educators may want to help students’ change their phone use behaviors, as it could potentially protect their academic achievement in the future.

What can parents/caregivers do about adolescents’ excessive phone use?

  1. Complete a cell phone contract/agreement with your child, before giving access to a smartphone. Common Sense Media has a great example of a Family Media Agreement that you can download here:
  2. Even if your child already has a smartphone, it’s never too late to set limits on when they can use their phones. It is important to have screen-free zones at home. Particularly, remove devices from bedrooms and minimize phone distractions during homework time.
  3. Model healthy use! Show your teen that phones should not get in the way of quality family time.
  4. Contact a psychologist if you need additional help in managing your child’s screen time–especially if they are not performing well at school or are having problems functioning because of their phone use.

What can schools/teachers do about adolescents’ excessive phone use?

  1.  Integrate content related to healthy device use into school curricula. We have a new prevention program, Developing Healthy Social Media Practices, that is being piloted in middle school classes currently. Contact if you’d like teachers and other school personnel in your community to be trained to provide this to your students.
  2. Set up a school phone/technology policy that considers both the risks and rewards of technology use in the classrooms. This can be a challenging task, but help is available. Dr. Domoff consults with school administrators to devise policies that promotes a healthy school climate and safe phone use.
  3. Engage in school-wide events, such as Screen-Free Week ( to help youth recognize the benefits of not being constantly connected.

Click here to read the article.

Domoff, S. E., Foley, R. P., & Ferkel, R. (2020). Addictive phone use and academic performance in adolescents. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies2(1), 33-38.

COVID-19 Resources for Families

How families can cope with COVID-19:

How families can stay up-to-date with COVID-19 news:

How families can cope with social distancing:

How to talk to children about COVID-19:

How to keep children occupied at home– Play ideas:

How to keep children occupied at home– Co-view age-appropriate media as a family:

Media Mondays: Special Blog Regarding COVID-19

Many of us are preparing for a major shift in our lives related to the precautions needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”). We are concerned about the well-being of our loved ones and may need to radically change our lives to keep the most vulnerable safe. As a child clinical psychologist, I’ve received a lot of emails regarding how mental health providers can help children and families during this time. Instead of reviewing the latest research on screen time, we are focusing today’s #MediaMonday on building resilient children during this pandemic.

It is important to talk to your children about what is happening in age-appropriate ways. We know that, based on prior research on the impact of news coverage of disasters and tragedies, viewers are susceptible to increased concern and confusion. Keeping the news on throughout the day may be wearing for children and may create additional anxiety. Please limit young children’s access to news coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 and have discussions with your older children and adolescents. I highly recommend this resource sheet from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, regarding how to help your children cope during this pandemic:

Parents and other caregivers are concerned about keeping their children healthy. Please reference this information from the CDC about what is known about children and COVID-19:

Make sure to access reputable sources (e.g., CDC or World Health Organization) to acquire information about risk to you and your family.

With schools being closed in the state of Michigan and several other states, many caregivers are wondering how to balance child care without relying too much on screens. First, although I’m a big proponent of balance, I understand that these unique circumstances will tap our resources and may make it hard to keep to certain screen time limits. As we acclimate to this new normal, there may be some days where screen time is higher than other days. Do not blame or shame parents or others on their screen time during the pandemic (or at any other time). Recognize the immense privilege that comes with being able to remain screen-free and work from home during social distancing.

Some of us can work from home and can practice social distancing. However, many parents and caregivers in our country cannot work from home, either due to their type of work or because resources needed to actually work from home are not available (e.g., child care, internet access, flexible work schedules, and paid sick leave). These resources are critical to help families in great need. We should be taking action to help our neighbors and those who will be most impacted by this crisis. Larger scale supports may be critical at the federal level. Please reach out to local, state, and national leaders to demand support for families with caregivers who will not be able to work during this pandemic.

For those of you who can practice social distancing, please reference this article for guidance from psychologists on how to stay well while remaining in isolation at home:

For parents and other caregivers whose children need to remain at home due to school closures, check out these great recommendations for how to keep children occupied and engaged in play at home:

Do you have tips or strategies to help keep children active and resilient during this time? Share your ideas by tweeting @sarah_domoff or using #MediaMondays. Stay well and contact your local psychologist for support @apa @pureMPA.

Media Mondays: Adolescents’ Phone Use and Mental Health Concerns

Adolescents’ Phone Use and Mental Health Concerns
Written by Kelly Mannion, graduate member of the Family Health Lab and Sarah Domoff, PhD

There has been increased debate regarding how screen media may or may not be harmful for adolescents. Although research is fairly consistent about how smartphone use interferes with adolescents’ sleep (see Domoff, Borgen, Foley, & Maffett, 2019 for a review on smartphone use and adolescents’ physical health), evidence is quite mixed regarding whether smartphones contribute to poorer mental health. A major limitation of prior research is that it has relied on adolescents making estimates of their phone use. Jensen and colleagues (2019) address this limitation.

Jensen et al. (2019) examined the mobile phone use and mental health symptoms of 388 adolescents via self-report and ecological momentary assessment (EMA). EMA consists of individuals reporting their own phone usage and mental health symptoms live, in real time, as opposed to a self-report assessment completed later (and after usage). Results indicated that adolescents’ phone use was not associated with poorer mental health, regardless of the amount of time spent on the phone. These results suggest that simply using smartphones may not be harming adolescents’ mental health. Indeed, our research has suggested that it is how an adolescent uses his or her phone that matters for various outcomes, such as academic performance (see Domoff, Foley, & Ferkel, 2019). If you are interested in learning more about how smartphones may impact youth at school, click here.

What parents and clinicians should do to help youth use phones in healthier ways:

  • Communicate openly about the risks and benefits of mobile device use.
  • Ask youth about who they follow and the content they enjoy viewing. Importantly, make sure youth know what they should do if they encounter content that upsets them or causes stress or worry.
  • Risks appear to be related to the content that youth are exposed to, as well as the context of use. For example, keeping youth off phones prior to bedtime (and keeping phones out of the bedroom) has the potential to reduce interference with sleep.
  • Talk to a psychologist if you are concerned about your child’s smartphone use and how it may be affecting their functioning.
  • Consider using a family media agreement or cellphone contract to help set limits and support healthy device use. Here are some great examples, available for download: Common Sense Media and Healthy Children’s Family Media Plan

Click here to read the article.

Jensen, M., George, M. J., Russell, M. R., & Odgers, C. L. (2019). Young adolescents’ digital technology use and mental health symptoms: Little evidence of longitudinal or daily linkages. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(6), 1416-1433.

Media Mondays: Goodnight, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Cellphones Bite

Goodnight, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Cellphones Bite
Written by Emma Skoseth, undergraduate member of the Family Health Lab

 It’s no secret: when our kids say goodnight and head for their bedrooms, they may not truly be logging off. With a rise in cellphone ownership among adolescents comes a rise in usage, and in many households, the glow of these screens under the blanket well past bedtime is becoming a nightly reality. What may serve as an adolescent’s dream-ending to a busy day can be a parent’s nightmare, and this begs the question among caregivers and researchers alike: how does excessive use of cellphones impact the physical health of children? A review of academic literature done by Domoff et al. (2019) has found that while there are either mixed results or too few studies done on the linkage between excessive use of mobile device and a variety of physical health concerns, there is strong evidence that heavy device use has negative consequences for sleep outcomes; the examined studies support the claim that excessive smartphone use isn’t just a nightmare for parents, but can pose problems to children and their sleeping patterns.  

What the Research Says
The literature review looked at 25 studies that dealt with investigating the relationship between excessive usage of mobile devices and sleep health (Domoff et al., 2019). Different studies looked at different aspects of sleep health, examining sleep duration, overall sleep quality, sleep disruption, and delayed onset of sleep after going to bed. Strong evidence emerged from these studies that the excessive usage of mobile devices is associated with shorter sleep duration; additionally, the nighttime use of devices and social media is associated with poorer sleep quality.

What This Means: Fighting the Nightmare of Adverse Sleep Impacts
With strong evidence to support the claim that excessive usage of mobile devices has negative consequences for the sleep health of children and teenagers, actions should be taken to curb these mobile device habits, as quality sleep is essential to our health.

Parents and other caregivers should:
1. Promote a balanced amount of screen time, and set limits on mobile device use, especially at the end of the day.
2. Encourage children to leave their phones in a different room (not in their bedroom) and put devices away one-two hours before bedtime.

In addition to parents’ reducing screen media use around bedtime, youth also can work on creating a balance in their life. For example, at Central Michigan University, Dr. Sarah Domoff’s Family Health Lab has designed the Developing Healthy Social Media Practices intervention (DHSMP) for use in classrooms. An important component of DHSMP is helping youth identify how their phone use impacts their health. If you want your school or clinic to help youth reduce problematic or nighttime phone use, reach out to Dr. Domoff to learn more about bringing DHSMP to your community!

Click here to read the article.

Domoff, S. E., Borgen, A. L., Foley, R. P., & Maffett, A. (2019). Excessive use of mobile devices and children’s physical health. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 1(2), 169-175.

Dr. Domoff interviewed on The Today Show segment, “Does your kid need a digital detox? How to break those tech habits”

Dr. Domoff was interviewed by Jake Ward for The Today Show segment, “Does your kid need a digital detox? How to break those tech habits” (2020, January 31).

Watch this episode via The Today Show
Watch this episode via NBC News

Dr. Domoff and Students Publish Chapter in “Clinician’s Toolkit for Children’s Behavioral Health”

Dr. Domoff and students, Aubrey Borgen and Chelsea Robinson, recently published a chapter in the “Clinician’s Toolkit for Children’s Behavioral Health” book (2020, edited by Michele Knox) on how behavioral health clinicians can screen for and address problematic media use among children and adolescents. Their chapter includes semi-structured interview forms to guide the assessment process and resources to share with children and families. Click on the link here to access.

Dr. Domoff Presented at DeVos Children’s Hospital/Spectrum Health Pediatric Grand Rounds

Dr. Domoff presented, “Adolescents’ Screen Media Use: Assessing and Treating Problematic Media Use” at DeVos Children’s Hospital/Spectrum Health Pediatric Grand Rounds in Grand Rapids, Michigan on September 10, 2019.

Dr. Domoff Presented at the Federal Trade Commission’s Inside the Game: Unlocking the Consumer Issues Surrounding Loot Boxes

Dr. Domoff presented, “Children and Gaming: Current Issues in the Digital Age” as the invited speaker at the Federal Trade Commission’s Inside the Game: Unlocking the Consumer Issues Surrounding Loot Boxes on August 7, 2019. Click here to watch her and other researchers speak about children and gaming.

Dr. Domoff Presented at the Christian Alliance for Orphans OVC Applied Research and Best Practice Symposium

Dr. Domoff presented, “Preventing Problematic Media Use in Vulnerable Children” as the keynote speaker at the Christian Alliance for Orphans OVC Applied Research and Best Practice Symposium on May 8, 2019.

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