Pandemic pushed screen time for preschoolers up to six house a day for some children
Kindergarten children from low-income families spent more than six hours a day in front of screens during two early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study from Ohio State University has found.
That is nearly double the screen time found before the pandemic in similar children, highlighting that caregivers from low-income households may have faced more difficulties than those from more advantaged families in managing the time their children spent watching TV and using computers, phones and tablets when early childhood services were shut down, according to the researchers.
“We found a high level of media use compared to what many experts think is appropriate for this age group,” lead author Rebecca Dore said.
“Some of that time spent using media was positive: watching educational videos and connecting with friends and family. But the amount of time they spent is something we should be aware of.”
Ms Dore worked with Professor Laura Justice and Associate Professor Kelly Purtell to reach the findings, with the work recently published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.
The study involved 151 low-income caregivers of kindergartners in Ohio who completed online questionnaires between 1 May and 30 June 2020, as part of a larger study.
Caregivers responded to 12 questions assessing children’s media use on the most recent weekday and weekend day. Media use included any kind of video, including television, movies or short clips on any electronic device, and using apps or games on any type of device.
Results showed that children averaged 6.6 hours a day of media use. Contrary to previous research, weekday use (6.8 hours) was higher than weekend media use (5.8 hours).
“That suggests parents might have been using media as a substitute for the time their children would have been spending in some type of child care that was closed because of the pandemic,” Ms Dore said.
“Increased screen time may be particularly concerning for children from low-income households who had higher levels even before the pandemic: over 3 and a half hours per day compared with less than 2 hours for children from high-income homes.”
While it may seem that remote schooling may be the main driver behind the results, findings showed that 84 per cent of children had direct contact with their teachers once a week or less, with 53 per cent reporting no direct contact.
“Importantly, we saw increases in media use in a lot of areas often considered positive, such as learning and fostering friendships, suggesting that caregivers may have been using media to supplement children’s educational and social experiences at a time when in-person options were not safe,” Professor Justice said.
“These families don’t have some of the resources that more advantaged families have to help with children while the parents work or do other things. For low-income families, occupying a child’s time may also be very important and necessary at times,” she added.
Families with more children had higher levels of screen time, potentially reflecting the pressures that caregivers have with larger families, Ms Dore added.
Girls in the study spent more time than boys did using media to connect with family and friends. Ms Dore said caregivers should be encouraged to provide more support to boys in maintaining relationships through technology when they can’t meet in person.
It is not clear whether the high levels of media use found in this study would also be found in higher-income families.
“Other reports would suggest children from all backgrounds had higher media use during this time,” she continued.
Ms Dore speculated that usage levels may be even higher in lower-income families because they are less likely to have flexibility to manage children’s activities during work hours or be able to afford other child care options.
To access the findings please see here.