Sarah Domoff wants to help parents determine if their children's use of electronic media has negative consequences.
The tool she's created for health professionals could make a difference.
It's not about how much time children spend on electronics, but how the experience impacts them, said the Central Michigan University
psychology faculty member whose study is being published in a national psychology journal.
Domoff said she became aware of the depth of the problem during her early doctoral training. She encountered families struggling with how their children's media use interfered with normal functioning — such as not being able to sleep because they wanted to play video games, or not having social interactions with other children.
"It really got in the way of their lives," she said. "I wanted to know what to recommend (to parents). What are the best practices?"
There wasn't any research on problematic use of electronic media in pre-adolescent children, she discovered, so she plunged in.
Asking the right questions
Her first step was to create a line of questions to ask parents whose answers would uncover symptoms of problematic media use.
She sent those questions to experts around the country for feedback, made revisions and gave them to parents in different studies. She wanted to see if the questions would reveal problematic media use better than just asking parents about how many hours their child uses screen media.
This led to a parent questionnaire whose answers signal clinicians about media "addiction" in younger children. The form asks parents how much they agree with statements about electronic devices, such as: "It's hard for my child to stop using it," "it's the only thing that seems to motivate my child" and "there's nothing my child enjoys as much."
Domoff's goal is to have health professionals give the form to parents and use it as a basis for referral to a child psychologist for further treatment.
The legwork is just beginning. After the paper is published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture, Domoff will go on the lecture circuit, to train clinicians on how to assess and address problematic media use in children.
This isn't Domoff's only dive into the challenges young people face with modern media. She's working with a team of seven CMU undergraduate and graduate students who have created an
intervention for adolescents at risk of problematic social media use, such as cyberbullying and use that interferes with sleep and well-being.