Clinical Child Psychologist, Expert on Children's Media Use and Problematic Media Use in Adolescents. Director of the Family Health Lab, University at Albany, State University of New York

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Media Mondays: Parenting Stress and Children’s Media Use

Parenting Stress and Children’s Media Use
Written by Kiersten Fox, Psychology Undergraduate Student at Central Michigan University and Sarah E. Domoff, PhD

Many parents may try to start out with a “no technology” attitude when it comes to exposing their children to digital media. However, parents often resort to a “digital babysitter” before long. What contributes to parents’ use of digital media to distract or placate children? Researchers from the Guelph Family Health Study (Tang, Hruska, Ma, Haines, & the Guelph Family Health Study, 2020) asked just that question, and the short answer is stress.

This may not come as a surprise; in many homes, it is hard to plan for screen-free days in the midst of school, work, household chores, and many other competing demands. What this study asked, in particular, was how parents’ stress associated with the amount of screen time, whether limits are set, and how closely parents monitored their children’s screen usage. The study also compared results between mothers and fathers, finding that they respond to stress in different ways when it comes to media parenting practices.

Results from the Guelph Family Health Study indicated that for mothers, being stressed associated with less frequent monitoring and fewer digital media limits for their children. Parenting stress in fathers also associated with poorer screen limit setting and greater mealtime media use.

If you’re a parent struggling to decide “do I fight this battle or let it slide?” when it comes to limiting your children’s screen time, you’re not alone. For those of you who want to work towards less digital media in your homes, the large takeaway from this study is to focus on lowering the stress that you and your partner experience. One way to do this is to reach out to a local psychologist who specializes in parent management training. For example, at the Center for Children, Families, and Communities (CCFC), we offer evidence-based programs to help parents better manage their stress and learn strategies to mitigate too much screen time. Contact Dr. Domoff (989-774-6639) to learn more about the services we offer at the CCFC.

Click here to view the article.

Lisa Tang, Valerie Hruska, David W.L. Ma, Jess Haines & on behalf of the Guelph Family Health Study (2020) Parenting under pressure: stress is associated with mothers’ and fathers’ media parenting practices in Canada, Journal of Children and Media, DOI: 10.1080/17482798.2020.1765821

COVID-19 Resources for Families, Part 3

New resources to help you and your loved ones during this pandemic. Tweet @sarah_domoff and #MediaMondays to request specific resources for the children in your lives.

The TRAILS group at the University of Michigan has compiled a lot of great resources. I plan on using some of these resources for myself! Some of my favorites include the Self-Care during COVID-19 handout and Sticking to a Schedule handout. The Self-Care handout reviews strategies we all should follow to manage our well-being during this time. They also have a specific Self-Care handout for adolescents. The Sticking to a Schedule handout provides a nice example of how we can create a balanced day and provides a helpful activity bank (with links to activities). Clinicians and parents can collaboratively problem solve using this handout with adolescents who may need some added structure to their days.

APA and national PTA address children’s anxiety about COVID-19
The APA and PTA released this straightforward, user-friendly guidance around helping children who are experiencing anxiety related to COVID-19. Some helpful tips include keeping a routine (so helpful!) and managing screen time. One additional tip, which we’ve highlighted before, is to reduce exposure to news coverage. This is especially important if you have younger (school-age) children and if your child is anxious or tends to worry. Provide facts about the pandemic, but do not have ongoing news coverage of COVID-19 for hours each day.

Advice for caregivers of children with disabilities
APA provides another set of tips, specific to parents and caregivers of children with disabilities. Tips for communicating with your child and his/her care team, providing reassurance to your child, and cultivating self-care for parents/caregivers are provided.

We will continue to provide resources as they are compiled to help you and your loved ones during this pandemic.

COVID-19 Resources for Families, Part 2

We will be continuing to provide resources as they are compiled to help you and your loved ones during this pandemic.

Stuck at Home Resource List for parents of children in preschool and elementary school: (THANK YOU to Dr. Lucy McGoron @DrMcgoron for creating and vetting this list!)

  • Michigan Science Center is giving science lessons each weekday at 2:30 (streaming through Facebook Live)
  • The Cincinnati Zoo is presenting “Home Safari” each weekday at 3:00 (through Facebook Live)
  • Mo Wiliams (author of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and many other books) has created YouTube videos to teach drawing (called “Lunch Doodles”)
  • Through Facebook, the Toledo Zoo is presenting a different exhibit each day
  • Scholastic is offering free online learning modules
  • Skype a Scientist allows children to meet with real scientists and ask them questions
  • “The Dad Lab” is a Facebook page with lots of fun science activities
  • The “Story Pirates” will host a daily radio show with songs, jokes, etc.; Parents can also submit stories written by children.
  • Outschool” is featuring free drawing lessons for kids
  • There are a lot of museums that are giving virtual tours. Here is a list of some.
  • PBS Kids has a daily newsletter now with activities for kids
  • Ranger Rick magazine is giving a free digital subscription
  • Scholastic has lots of online resources


Check out Sesame Workshop’s Caring for Each Other initiative; they are providing support for families during the pandemic and many free resources:

We have also learned about this exciting new initiative from Common Sense Media! It’s called Wide Open School and it provides free online resources for families of children from pre-K through high school.

Go here and click on “We’re a family” to get started. Make sure to choose the correct age range for each child because there are activities designed for children and teens.

Click here for an overview of how to use Wide Open School.

What’s great about Wide Open School is that it provides materials that can be completed offline and on mobile devices.

Additionally, this site provides activities and handouts in the areas of:

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.

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