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.

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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