From surveillance to co-viewing: Strategies and responses to smartphone regulation within a family context


  • Sanja Zepan
  • Tanja Oblak Črnič


smartphone use and regulation, family communication, domestication of technology, ethnographic study, in-depth interviews


This article presents an ethnographic study conducted within five distinct Slovenian families, the aim of which was to discuss how different models of family communication intersect with the regulations of mobile devices and responses to regulatory strategies within the same families. Following the four ideal types of family communication (protective, consensual, pluralistic, and laissez-faire) and many studies that have confirmed a correlation between media use and family communication, this article primarily focuses on the ambivalent roles of smartphones within family relationships. According to the results based on in depth interviews with parents and their children, the study finds that parents mediate children’s use of mobile phones with three distinct tactics: through co use of devices, surveillance of usage, and strict rules that limit the use of phones within the homes. Children resist such regulations, yet again in different ways: through persuasion, by avoiding the rules and hiding their practices, and through partnership with parents. The role of family communication in this regard is not linear but quite complex: It seems that within the families oriented more towards conversation, children learn how to affect and potentially transform the rules, while for the families oriented towards conformity, this is not always the case.