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Lab takes on toddlers' and teens' screen time

Research investigates impact electronic devices have on child health and development

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

​Research shows the time each day that adolescents spend looking at a screen — everything from computers to smart phones, tablets and televisions — is nearly equivalent to a full-time job.

For an average of seven hours, they're capturing information that communicates, distracts, educates and entertains, and one Central Michigan University clinical psychology faculty member is looking into how this impacts adolescent health and development.

Sarah Domoff is director of CMU's newly established Family Health Research Lab. The lab is engaged in projects focused on healthy media use and obesity prevention in adolescents and young children.

"Technology and digital media use isn't going away, and we have to be concerned about what it means for the health and development of children," she said. "We have to look into what can be negative about it, but we also need to look at how we can leverage the use of it to enhance and improve the lives and well-being of children. A lot of this research also has implications for how parents can be involved."

"This research with youth and media represents a growing area of concern for parents and the results may inform the field about how parents should monitor media use."​

 Jacob White, clinical psychology doctoral student from Shelby, Michigan​​

Work conducted at CMU's Family Health Research Lab is done through a collaboration with the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development and Momentum Center. This partnership was established through Domoff, who recently completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan and is completing related projects.

Current research involves five CMU students who soon will begin analyzing videos of families eating dinner in their home in order to investigate mealtime media use in families with children at different stages of development — toddlers, preschoolers and early adolescents — and testing whether screen use predicts obesity and other health outcomes across development. Students are measuring the amount of screen time as well as the types of interactions parents have with their children during the meals.

Rachel Gerrie is a sophomore psychology major from Atlanta, Michigan, who was interested in the research because it involves children. Seeing how media use and social networking has taken hold of children as young as two, she said it is important to determine the effect this has on child development and interaction with the people in their lives.

"I have been surprised to see that with the mobile device use and social media networking exploding over the past year, there is not a substantial amount of evidence and/or data exhibiting exactly how media may affect child-parent relationships, co-parenting, obesity and various other areas," Gerrie said. "There is a lot of progress to be made in this area."

In addition to examining the health outcomes of children's media use, current Family Health Research Lab projects include:

  • The Problematic Media Use Measure, which psychologists and pediatricians will use to screen for excessive or addictive media use in children; and
  • Evidence-based practices that promote effective media parenting.

"I believe that today's parents and their children face unique challenges," said Jacob White, a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student and graduate assistant from Shelby, Michigan. "This research with youth and media represents a growing area of concern for parents and the results may inform the field about how parents should monitor media use."

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