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Young Children's Use and Parent-child Co-use of Tablets: Investigating Mobile Media's Effects on Children's Executive Function

Jan M Esteraich, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Abundant research has provided strong evidence showing the development of executive function plays a critical role in young children’s social and academic outcomes (Blair & Raver, 2015; Blair & Razza, 2007; McClelland, et al., 2007). Children’s executive function develops rapidly during the preschool years (Blair, 2014) and can be especially susceptive to environmental influences during this time (Masten et al. 2012; Obradovic`, 2010). With the introduction of the smartphone in 2007 and the tablet in 2010, mobile devices and mobile media have become increasingly prevalent in young children’s environment (Rideout, 2017). Children’s seemingly intense interest and increased use of mobile media has prompted substantial public interest in its potential effects, benefits and consequences to children’s development (Hernandez, et al., 2015; NAEYC & Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, 2012). Unfortunately there is a paucity of research in this area (Connell, Lauricella, & Wartella, 2015), especially pertaining to young children from families with lower resources. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of preschool children’s use, and parent-child co-use, of mobile media on the development of executive function in children from lower-resourced households. Specifically, the study examined how the use of high-quality, educational apps affected children’s growth of executive function and self-control, and how the amount of time children spent using and co-using tablets related to these outcomes. Also, a new measurement app was created for this study to more accurately measure children’s independent use and co-use of mobile devices. Utilizing an experimental design and secondary ANCOVA analyses, seventy-six Head Start preschool children and their parents from three Head Start programs in the Midwest were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Group 1 received a tablet with 23 apps selected for their high-quality and educational value, and were asked to use the tablet for 10 weeks in place of, and in the same manner as, the devices the child used at home. Group 2 received the same tablet and instructions and parents also were asked to co-use the tablet with their child for an extra 15 minutes a day, beyond what was typical. The Control group continued using their own mobile devices. The experimental analyses showed no significant differences in the growth of executive function or self-control among the three groups. However, in the secondary analyses when children’s sex was considered as a moderating factor, significant differences were found. On average, girls in Group 1 did better than boys in Group 1, and boys in Group 2 did better than girls in Group 2. Also, girls in Groups 1 and 2 showed decreasing self-control scores with increased independent use of the research tablets, while boys’ scores remained the same. Further research is needed to examine how and why boys’ and girls’ growth in executive function and self-control differed when using and co-using the same apps and tablet devices. Nonetheless, this study’s findings open the possibility that boys’ and girls’ executive function and self-control development respond differently when using and co-using mobile media.

Subject Area

Early childhood education|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Esteraich, Jan M, "Young Children's Use and Parent-child Co-use of Tablets: Investigating Mobile Media's Effects on Children's Executive Function" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10846126.