SRCD 2019 Biennial Conference
March 21-23, 2019
Title: Infant Media Use, Alone and with Parents, and their Social-Emotional and Language Development
Session: Influences on Very Young Children’s Screened Media Use and their Development
Authors: Stephanie Reich, Wendy Ochoa, Guadalupe Diaz, Natasha Cabrera
Abstract: Children are now born into homes filled with screen media. Although these devices are ubiquitous in young children’s lives, little is known about exposure and use within the first year. Research on older screen media, such as television, has found that parents play an important role in what children learn, by mediating use1. For instance co-viewing and discussing content is associated with greater learning (Coyne et al., 2017; Barr et al., 2008), while allowing children to watch alone is rarely beneficial. In the extreme, media use by very young children, without parental mediation, can be detrimental to language development, as demonstrated with the Baby Einstein videos and subsequent civil lawsuit Kirkorian, Wartella, & Anderson, 2008; Richert et al., 2010) Since screens are often consider digital babysitters and as new technologies (e.g., tablets, smartphones) are present in almost all US homes, research is needed into understanding the media habits of very young children and how is associated with language and social emotional development.
This presentation describes the media environment and screened media habits of 9-month-old children and explores if and how active and passive mediation of media use is associated with children’s language and social-emotional development. Data are drawn from the baseline wave of a parenting intervention study (Baby Books 2 Project) of low-income, first-time parents who speak English and/or Spanish. One-hundred-fifteen couples (115 mothers, 115 fathers) were surveyed about the media habits of their 9-month-old child. Additionally, infants’ language development was assessed using the Preschool Language Scale (PLS-4) and social development with the BITSEA (ref).
All but 1 home owned screened devices (range 0-28, M= 8.1, sd=5.5). Televisions were typically on, whether being watched or not (63% of homes). Infants often watched TV alone (43%) or used a tablet or smartphone alone (52%). The reasons for device use were typically to keep the child busy (33%) or to distract or calm them when upset (47%). The majority of parents (81%) reported using screened media with their child.
In considering the relationship between screened media use social emotional development, we found that infants’ media use alone was unrelated to social competence scores, but was positively associated with higher behavior problem scores (Beta=.24, p=0.003), after controlling for parental demographics. Media co-use was not related to BITSEA scores. For language, solo and co-use of media were negatively related to receptive language, with media use alone having a stronger negative association (Beta= -.17, p=0.02 co-use; Beta= -.21, p=0.002 solo).
These data show a relationship between infants’ media use and their language and social-emotional development. Although cross-sectional and not causal, these findings align well with the robust literature on the importance of parent-child interaction. Further, they suggest that technology use may not be beneficial for infants, perhaps due to the affordances of the technology or the missed opportunity for parent-child interaction. As technology and media are now a consistent part of infancy, research needs to better understand how they are used in families and what role they may play in children’s development.