Date of Submission



This thesis details a ground-breaking study of joint media engagement between parents and children aged birth-to-three years in their home settings in Nairobi County in Kenya. It describes and attempts to theorise the social and communicative features of parents and young children using digital media together in the context of family interpersonal interaction and communication. In the pursuit of understanding and theorising the social and communicative features of joint media engagement, I consider the central role of sociality in human learning by locating digital media in routines and practices of everyday life and examine the actions and interactions that occur with, around and through various digital media platforms in families. The importance of digital media in culture and society cannot be neglected because they are involved in every aspect of young children’s lives. A growing body of research suggests young children under the age of three living in homes increasingly saturated with digital media, use this technology. This implies that we must consider the role that digital media plays to grasp an understanding of the everyday life experiences of young children in post-industrial society. Young children’s access and use of digital media have and continue to evoke public anxieties about the perceived digital media effects on optimal cognitive, social, language and emotional development. In part, these widespread anxieties exist because we have limited understanding of how young children use digital media in the context of everyday family relationships and experiences. In response to these concerns, researchers have initiated investigations over the past nine years collecting data in both formal and informal settings suggesting that joint media engagement may mitigate the perceived effects of digital media and foster positive developmental outcomes in young children. However, the aspects of joint media engagement which may mitigate the effects of digital media while fostering play and learning are largely unknown and undertheorised. There is an urgent need to understand the aspects or features of joint media engagement so that we are better placed to mobilise digital media for learning in homes. For its theoretical framework, the study anchored in socio-contextual perspectives of human learning, mostly applying cultural-historical and socioecological theories that use ‘mediated actions’ or ‘agents-acting-with-mediational means’ in context as a focal unit of analysis to examine psychosocial developmental processes. The study utilised data generated by the ethnographic method of video observations in eight selected families in Nairobi County in Kenya. In terms of analysis, interactional analysis was used to identify the social and communicative features of joint parent-child dyadic engagement with digital media as cultural tools. Through the iterative microanalysis of selected video episodes of joint media engagement, four social and communicative features were identified as instantiated in joint media engagement between parents and young children in the observed families. The four social and communicative features include: physical proximity of participants, reciprocal communication between the participants, mutual visual gaze to digital media activities on screen, and sharing a common interest in digital media activities. The thesis argues that the four social and communicative features engendered in joint media engagement reflect the warm, embodied, and affective ways through which digital media used as mediational means or cultural tools fulfil the interactional purposes of parents and their children in the context of family relationships and socialisation. I further argue that the social and communicative features identified in joint media engagement may be the focal concerns of parents when they are helping young children to navigate through the complex media environment at home. Based on the four social and communicative features that constitute joint media engagement, I hypothesise two psychosocial developmental processes and argue that they may represent the primary mechanisms through which young children may learn while using digital media together with their parents at home. I offer nuanced claims which conceive joint media engagement as a site or potential space where parents can identify and extend or amplify the emerging social and communicative competencies displayed by young children.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


252 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education and Arts