Background: Screen-viewing has been associated with increased body mass, increased risk of metabolic syndrome and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents. There is a shortage of information about the nature of contemporary screen-viewing amongst children especially given the rapid advances in screen-viewing equipment technology and their widespread availability. Anecdotal evidence suggests that large numbers of children embrace the multi-functionality of current devices to engage in multiple forms of screen-viewing at the same time. In this paper we used qualitative methods to assess the nature and extent of multiple forms of screen-viewing in UK children.
Methods: Focus groups were conducted with 10-11 year old children (n = 63) who were recruited from five primary schools in Bristol, UK. Topics included the types of screen-viewing in which the participants engaged; whether the participants ever engaged in more than one form of screen-viewing at any time and if so the nature of this multiple viewing; reasons for engaging in multi-screen-viewing; the room within the house where multi-screen-viewing took place and the reasons for selecting that room. All focus groups were transcribed verbatim, anonymised and thematically analysed.
Results: Multi-screen viewing was a common behaviour. Although multi-screen viewing often involved watching TV, TV viewing was often the background behaviour with attention focussed towards a laptop, handheld device or smart-phone. There were three main reasons for engaging in multi-screen viewing: 1) tempering impatience that was associated with a programme loading; 2) multi-screen facilitated filtering out unwanted content such as advertisements; and 3) multi-screen viewing was perceived to be enjoyable. Multi-screen viewing occurred either in the child's bedroom or in the main living area of the home. There was considerable variability in the level and timing of viewing and this appeared to be a function of whether the participants attended after-school clubs.
Conclusions: UK children regularly engage in two or more forms of screen-viewing at the same time. There are currently no means of assessing multi-screen viewing nor any interventions that specifically focus on reducing multi-screen viewing. To reduce children's overall screen-viewing we need to understand and then develop approaches to reduce multi-screen viewing among children.