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Moderate Screentime Essential for Young Children’s Well-Being, Finds New Study

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In the digital age, screentime has become an integral part of everyday life, even for the youngest members of society. A recent study published in JAMA Network Open has shed new light on the impact of screentime on young children, particularly during the Covid pandemic. This study offers a comprehensive look at how increased screen exposure affects the psychological well-being of children aged 6 months to 5 years.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The study was prompted by the global increase in screentime among young children, a trend that escalated during the Covid lockdown in 2020. Previous studies have suggested potential negative impacts of high screentime on children’s development, but comprehensive research in this area, especially concerning young children, was lacking. Kwon and her team aimed to fill this gap by evaluating screentime across four years (2018–2021) in a nationally representative sample of young US children and examining the relationships between screentime and psychological well-being.

The study utilised cross-sectional data from the 2018–2021 National Survey of Children’s Health. It involved a large sample size of 48,775 participants, ensuring a diverse and representative population. Screentime was assessed based on the daily amount reported by participants’ primary caregivers. The study focused on two main outcomes: flourishing (a measure of positive psychology) and externalising behaviours (indicators of behavioural problems).

Key findings

  • Increased screentime during pandemic. The research found that screentime among young children increased significantly in 2020 during the lockdown but returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.
  • Socioeconomic and racial disparities. The study highlighted that children living in poverty experienced consistently higher levels of screentime, which did not decrease post-2020. Additionally, non-Hispanic Black children showed an increase in high screentime from 2020 to 2021.
  • Impact on psychological well-being. A critical finding of the study was the association between high screentime and lower psychological well-being among children aged 3–5 years. This group was less likely to exhibit flourishing and had higher externalising behaviour scores compared to those with less screentime.
  • No significant impact on younger children: Interestingly, the study did not find a significant association between screentime and flourishing among children aged 6 months to 2 years.

This study has several implications for parents, educators, and policymakers. It underscores the need for awareness and moderation in screentime for young children, especially among vulnerable groups. The findings also suggest that targeted interventions and support for healthy screen use are crucial for families with young children, particularly those living in poverty.


Based on these findings, several recommendations can be made:

  • Guidelines for screentime. Parents and carers should be encouraged to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines on screentime, which recommend limited screen exposure for young children.
  • Educational programmes. Programmes educating parents about the potential impacts of screentime and strategies for engaging children in alternative activities should be developed and promoted.
  • Research on content quality. Further research is needed to differentiate the impacts of various types of screen content on children’s development.

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