Academic journal article Family Relations

Responses to Children's Media Use in Families with and without Siblings: A Family Development Perspective

Academic journal article Family Relations

Responses to Children's Media Use in Families with and without Siblings: A Family Development Perspective

Article excerpt

Drawing on family development theory, this study provides insight into how family stages with and without siblings are related to media habits and effects. Two national samples (N = 527 and N = 1,257) present a crosssectional snapshot of media uses in families across three stages of family life: families with preschoolers (2 - 6 years), with elementary school-age children (7 - 12 years), andwith adolescents (13 - 17 years). We observed differences between family stages in five domains of media use: alternative activities to screen media, media use, parental monitoring, consistency in applying media rules, and resistance to media effects. Generally, more positive media habits were associated with families in earlier stages, families with siblings, and families with larger age gaps in sibling spacing. But greater vulnerability to media effects was associated with those families with multiple children and gaps in sibling spacing that spanned more than one stage.

Key Words: families, family development theory, media effects, media use, parenting, siblings.

If and how media affect families are questions that have a very long history. Given societal and academic concern with this topic, it is surprising how little scholarship has been directed at understanding media use within the family unit. The current state of the literature on this topic has several limitations that the current study attempts to address. First, research that documents changes in media habits from a developmental perspective tends to focus on individuals rather than families. Moreover, most studies in this area focus on changes in the frequency of media use as children age. Far less is known about changes in media-related habits other than frequency of use as children transition from their younger years to adolescence. This study provides a cross-sectional snapshot of children's media use and patterns of dealing with media in families with preschoolers, with elementary school-age children, and with teens. Second, scholarship on families and media is often reduced to television exposure. Although television continues to dominate children's media consumption and exposure time is obviously an important variable, media use is a complex behavior involving multiple aspects of a family's life beyond time spent viewing television. The current study examines time spent with TV and other media, but also examines media effects and parental responses to children's media use. Finally, the literature is inconclusive regarding the effect that siblings have on media use. By comparing families with only one child to those with more than one child across multiple domains of media use behavior, the current study aims to contribute insight into the effect that siblings have on the media habits of families.

Theoretical Framework

Family development theory is consistent with an ecological or systems-based approach to studying families. As such, it operates at multiple levels of analysis: individual, dyadic, social group, and institutional (Rodgers & White, 1993). Family development theory posits that the goals of family systems vary according to their position in the developmental career of families. Early iterations of the theory proposed an invariant timing and sequence of stages (e.g., Duvall, 1957), but current theorizing recognizes that such rigid formulations fail to capture the dynamics of many family systems. Rather, there is a general consensus that each stage is marked by similar events, norms, roles, and structures as well as recognition that progression on the developmental pathway is a stochastic process, not a deterministic one (Rodgers & White, 1993).

Rodgers and White (1993) defined a family stage as a "qualitative period in the life of a family with its own unique group structure" (p. 244). They further argued that each stage is marked by transitional events, such as the birth of the first child, which change the family structure, normative expectations and behaviors, and role relationships within the family. …

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