Examining the impact of young children’s digital media use during the COVID‑19 pandemic on health and developmental outcomes: A comprehensive assessment to inform harm-reduction and positive digital media use strategies

Fitzpatrick, Caroline | $489,497

Quebec Université de Sherbrooke 2022 CIHR Operating Grant

Digital media use by young children rose during the pandemic. Too much time spent in front of screens by preschoolers has been linked to adverse health and developmental outcomes in later childhood. However, digital media use by young children can also benefit cognitive and psychosocial outcomes under the right circumstances. To inform harm-reduction interventions, a nuanced understanding of the impact of digital media on children is needed. As such, the present project considers digital media usage comprehensively by considering context (ex., viewing alone vs coviewing), function (ex., passive viewing vs video chatting), and content (ex., educational vs violent) in addition to the duration of usage. The main objective of this research is to examine how digital media use during the pandemic contributes to child health, and developmental outcomes at the time of school entry. More specifically, Aim 1 is to examine how child media use contributes to direct assessments of health (ex., BMI, physical activity), and physical (ex., motor skills), cognitive (i.e., language, memory) and psychosocial (i.e., emotional regulation) outcomes. Aim 2 is to estimate associations between media use and academic outcomes at school entry (i.e., grades, classroom engagement). Finally, Aim 3 addresses the extent to which child (i.e., sex, temperament) and family (i.e., SES, parenting stress) characteristics contribute to child digital media habits. The extent to which these characteristics amplify/buffer the consequences of child media use will also be considered. Aims will be met by assessing child health, physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and academic outcomes from a pre-existing sample of Canadian children (N=331, mean age= 6.46, in summer 2022) assessed twice previously during the pandemic in 2020 (mean age= 3.5) and 2021 (mean age=4.5). Preexisting data include child and family characteristics, and comprehensive assessments of media use duration, content, context, and function.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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