Digital screens have become an integral part of everyday life. In the wake of the digital swell, pre-adolescents and their parents are learning to navigate seemingly new terrain regarding digital media use. The present study aimed to investigate parent and pre-adolescent perceptions of screen use and the source of conflict surrounding digital media. We employed a qualitative thematic analysis of 200 parent and pre-adolescent dyads discussing screen use. Our analysis showed five overarching themes for screen use perceptions and conflict: screen time, effects of screen use, balance, rules, and reasons for screen use. In contrast to previous studies that mainly focused on parental perceptions, we were also able to shed light on pre-adolescent perceptions of screen use and the difference in opinions with their parents. Furthermore, we found that patterns of the source of screen use conflict were oftentimes rooted in the age-old developmental tug of war between autonomy-seeking pre-adolescents and authority-seeking parents. Though navigating autonomy-granting and seeking behavior is familiar to developmental scientists, negotiating these challenges in a new digital world is unfamiliar. Autonomy support, open dialogue, and playful interaction between parents and children are needed to understand and resolve conflict of digital media use in family contexts.
Keywords: digital media; parent–child conflict; pre-adolescence; screen use; thematic analysis.