Child Media Use for Somatosensory Regulation and Implications for Family Media Conflict: Findings from Two Parent Surveys

Children and Screens

This work is based on sensory curation theory, which conceptualizes media devices as tools that both children and adults use to maintain sensory regulation by simultaneously capturing and curbing different visual, auditory, and movement/activity/tactile input in environments that may otherwise feel intolerable. This team describes a new theory, based on the concept that sensory curation functions alongside informational, emotional, and relational gratifications to influence child media habits, with the goal of better understanding why media attachments can develop early in life, and why distress and conflict may arise for some children when adults come between them and their devices. The team also describes measures pertinent to sensory curation. Two surveys validated such measures, and identified links with problematic child media use and family media conflict. In the first survey, child media sensory curation strongly predicted problematic child media use and moderately predicted adult-child media conflict. The second survey replicated those findings. Children with disorders associated with sensory imbalances had higher scores on device usage, sensory curation, problematic media use, and adult-child media conflict. These findings point to the need to adjust children’s non-media environments to meet the sensory needs for which they might otherwise depend on media devices, in order to minimize their distress when those devices are removed.