Excessive screen media habits begin in infancy, with higher rates in first-time mothers

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A new study appearing in JAMA Pediatrics found that excessive screen time may begin as early as infancy, with higher rates among first-time mothers.

For children less than 18 months of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the avoidance of digital media exposure. Instead, screen media exposure should occur at an introductory age of 18 to 24 months, limiting screen time to an hour a day until age 5.

The study, conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the New York University Langone Medical Center, and the University of Albany, gathered data from the Upstate KIDS Study.

It involved 3,895 children, aged 1 to 3, who had screen time data available within that age range. 1,156 had data available at age 8. The study was initiated in two phases: Phase 1, between September 2007 and June 2014; and Phase 2, between August 2014 and November 2019.

In the data, researchers analyzed television, movie, and computer preoccupation, measuring total daily screen time at 12, 18, 24, 30, and 36 months of age.

The findings indicated that daily screen time from watching television or computer/mobile devices rose from 53 minutes at 12 months of age to over 150 minutes at age 3. Among children born to first-time mothers, by age 8, they were more likely to report the highest number of screen time.

“Our results indicate that screen habits begin early,” said Edwina Yeung, co-author of the study. “This finding suggests that interventions to reduce screen time could have a better chance of success if introduced early.”

“These findings suggest that a range of parental and child characteristics are associated with screen time. Screen time habits appear to track from as early as infancy, emphasizing the need for earlier interventions,” the findings conclude.