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The researchers found that 75% of children had screen exposure during a given week. The mean exposure was over 400 minutes, or almost 7 hours, per week. However, the range of exposures found its median at 225 minutes, which is less than 3.6 hours, per week.
Screen exposure with feeding was reported by about 37% of parents, with a mean of 4.4 meals or snacks being eaten in front of a screen per week. This range was extremely large, from 0 to 28 meals or snacks with screen time per week.
Older children had 1.4 times higher odds of having screen exposure than younger children. There was a 43% increase in the odds of screen time between the group aged 7-12 months to the group aged 13-18 months.
When the parent reported stress, children were more likely to have screen exposure. The mean stress level among parents of children with screen time vs parents of children with no screen time was at 59 vs 62. Moreover, as parenting stress increased, screen time went up, though very slightly, at an additional 6% with each 14-point increase in stress, that is, by 25 minutes per week.
With income, screen time showed an inverse relationship, with a 26% increase as the income went from above Canadian $60,000 per year to below this level. On average, however, low-income parents allowed 108 more minutes of screen time per week.
When the feeding at screen time component was analyzed, they found that about 1 in 3 children watched a screen while feeding. Older children had almost 80% higher odds of watching a screen while they ate, from 33% in the 7-12-month age group to 49% in the other group.
Children from lower-income families had 2.5 times the odds of eating during screen time as those from high-income families. Implications
Parenting stress is associated with an increased tendency to allow younger children more screen time. Some reasons may be that mothers think of screen time as a safe and affordable way to distract or occupy the attention of the children while they get their own work done, or to calm their children down or prevent arguments or unpleasant situations within the family. Some have called the screen a “digital playpen” for this reason. This points to lack of family and social support for childrearing in many of these cases.
The study comprised mostly well-educated, high-income two-parent families which limits its potential application to some groups. The self-reporting model may also introduce some bias into the data. However, the detailed information on both child screen time and screen time with eating, the evaluation of multiple stressors and the statistical method used make the results reliable.
The findings show that allowing children less than 2 years of age significant amounts of screen time is a pervasive practice. The reasons for this may be multiple, but the risks of excessive screen exposure to the child’s development are established. The researchers recommend interventions such as telling parents about these dangers and offering other ways to reduce family and parenting stress. Moreover, parents should be shown alternative ways to deal with children other than screens, and most importantly, given proper social and family support to help care for the children under such conditions. Journal reference:
Tombeau Cost K, Korczak D, Charach A, et al. Association of Parental and Contextual Stressors With Child Screen Exposure and Child Screen Exposure Combined With Feeding. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(2):e1920557. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.20557
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