Toddlers spent more than twice as much time in front of screens in 2014 compared to 1997, and the share of television time grew among all young children in that time period, researchers found.
Average daily screen time for children ages 0-2 was 1.32 hours in 1997 compared to 3.05 hours in 2014, and the proportion of time watching television in this age group rose from 43% to 86%, respectively, reported Weiwei Chen, PhD, and Jessica Adler, PhD, both of Florida International University in Miami, and colleagues.
Meanwhile, children ages 3-5 did not experience a significant increase in screen time during this period, but the proportion of time watching television increased from 48% to 78%, respectively, the authors wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.
While a growing importance has been placed on the childhood use of mobile devices, this study demonstrates that the television still plays a key role in youth digital media use, Chen told MedPage Today.
“In 2014, we saw no significant difference between the two age groups and the younger ones watched as much total screen time as the older group,” Chen said, adding that this is particularly concerning considering children ages 2-5 are not recommended to consume more than 1 hour of digital media per day.
An American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement “Media and Young Minds,” states that children age <2 require "hands-on exploration and social interaction," with caregivers present in order to develop cognitively, socially, and physically. It recommends children age <2 should avoid digital media altogether, with the exception of video chatting.
“Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attention skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience,” the statement said.
The statement also noted that for preschool children, heavy media use has been associated with increases in BMI, poorer sleep, and cognitive, language, and social or emotional delays, and “likely secondary to decreases in parent–child interaction when the television is on and poorer family functioning in households with high media use.”
Wei and colleagues collected time diary data from population-based samples of children in the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics in 1997 and 2014. While screen time meant watching television programs, videotapes, video games, or home computers in 1997, the study also included the use of cell phones, smartphones, tablets, electronic readers, and children’s learning devices in 2014. For the study, parents were required to log their children’s daily activities and note whether a screen was present.
Chen said that time diary data may provide a more accurate estimate of childhood media use than self-reported parental answers to prepared questionnaires or interviews conducted at a certain time.
“For example, if you’re having dinner at home but you have the television on and this is recorded, that counts as screen time because television is involved,” Chen said. “That could be why we have a lot of time spent on television [because] you’re doing something else but the television is still on.”
In 1997, average daily television time for children ages 0-2 was 0.56 hours versus 2.62 hours in 2014, with similar increases for children ages 3-5 (1.19 hours vs 2.14 hours, respectively). In 2014, children ages 0-2 spent 0.37 hours a day on mobile devices on average, while children ages 3-5 spent 0.42 hours on these devices, the authors said.
“High-use” children were defined as those who had screen time greater than the median hours within their age group, and in 2014, the authors found that this group was “dominated by boys and children with low parental education level and family income.”
Chen noted the study may be limited because patterns in youth digital media use may have changed since 2014. The time diary data could also be biased due to its self-reported nature, and some of the media use recorded in these time diaries could have occurred while children were occupied by other activities.
The authors reported no relevant disclosures.