Media Exposure in Low-Income Preschool-Aged Children Is Associated with Multiple Measures of Self-Regulatory Behavior

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018 May;39(4):303-309. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000560.


Objective: Excessive screen media exposure in childhood is associated with parent-reported self-regulation difficulties. No studies have used laboratory-based or teacher-reported measures of child self-regulatory behaviors. This study examines cross-sectional associations between preschooler screen media exposure and multiple measures of self-regulatory behaviors.

Methods: Preintervention data were used from 541 preschoolers in the Growing Healthy study, an obesity prevention trial (2011-2015). Screen media exposure was measured by daily screen media exposure (hr/d), television (TV) in the bedroom, frequency of background TV, and TV with meals (1 = rarely/never, 4 = frequently). Child self-regulatory behaviors were measured by the following: child ability to delay gratification, a standardized waiting paradigm; teacher-reported Social Competence and Behavior Evaluation; and parent-reported difficult temperament on the Child Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ). Multivariate regression analyses modeled screen media exposure predicting each self-regulatory measure, adjusting for child age, sex, parent age, education, marital status, income-to-needs ratio, number of adults in household, parent depressive symptoms, and sensitivity.

Results: Children were aged 4.1 years (SD = 0.5), parents were aged 29.6 years (SD = 6.8), 48% had high school education or less, and 67% were married. Daily screen media exposure and background TV were associated with weaker observed self-regulation (β: -10.30 seconds for each hr/d media, -12.63 seconds for 1-point increase, respectively). Background TV and TV with meals were associated with greater parent-reported difficult temperament (β: 0.04 and 0.05 CBQ, respectively, for 1-point increase).

Conclusion: Greater screen media exposure had small but significant associations with weaker observed and parent-reported, but not teacher-reported, self-regulatory behaviors. Longitudinal studies are needed to determine the directionality of associations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Poverty* / statistics & numerical data
  • Screen Time*
  • Self-Control*
  • Television* / statistics & numerical data