Background Screen entertainment for young children has been associated with several aspects of psychosocial adjustment. Most research is from North America and focuses on television. Few longitudinal studies have compared the effects of TV and electronic games, or have investigated gender differences.
Purpose To explore how time watching TV and playing electronic games at age 5 years each predicts change in psychosocial adjustment in a representative sample of 7 year-olds from the UK.
Methods Typical daily hours viewing television and playing electronic games at age 5 years were reported by mothers of 11 014 children from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Conduct problems, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, hyperactivity/inattention and prosocial behaviour were reported by mothers using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Change in adjustment from age 5 years to 7 years was regressed on screen exposures; adjusting for family characteristics and functioning, and child characteristics.
Results Watching TV for 3 h or more at 5 years predicted a 0.13 point increase (95% CI 0.03 to 0.24) in conduct problems by 7 years, compared with watching for under an hour, but playing electronic games was not associated with conduct problems. No associations were found between either type of screen time and emotional symptoms, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems or prosocial behaviour. There was no evidence of gender differences in the effect of screen time.
Conclusions TV but not electronic games predicted a small increase in conduct problems. Screen time did not predict other aspects of psychosocial adjustment. Further work is required to establish causal mechanisms.
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