03:51am Friday 05 June 2020

Parents’ habits influence preschoolers’ TV time and computer use

In a study from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), researchers examined the parental factors that affect media use – also known as screen time – in preschool-age children. They found that young children who eat lunch and dinner in front of the television, whose mothers are employed and whose parents spend an above-average amount of time in front of a screen were more likely to have elevated screen time themselves. The study was published in the April 5 advance online edition of Public Health Nutrition.  

“Research has shown that increased screen time is linked to important health outcomes in children like delayed language development, aggressive behavior, cigarette smoking and obesity,” says Dr. Catherine Birken, lead author of the study and Staff Paediatrician and Project Investigator at SickKids. “If we can better understand the at-home factors influencing children’s habits, then interventions can be planned to reduce screen time and ultimately, promote healthier childhood development and growth.”

Screen time can be defined as watching television, or playing computer or video games. With a growing number of e-learning programs for young children, previous research has shown that “parents were more concerned with the quality of the content their children were consuming, than with their quantity of screen time,” says Birken, who is also Assistant Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto.  

Researchers followed 157 healthy three-year olds in Toronto from 2005 to 2007. They found that 10 per cent of preschoolers had a television in their bedroom. Fifty-nine per cent ate at least one meal with the television on, which is a risk factor for obesity. “The television acts as a distraction that alters the cues to tell you that you’re full. Turning the television off during mealtime may be a simple way that parents can help encourage safe and healthy media use in their family,” explains Birken. “It’s about finding a healthy balance.”

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends an hour or less of screen time per day for preschool-age children. This study found that these children actually spend an average of 104 minutes per day in front of the television. Researchers also learned that when a family has their own rule about screen time, their children watch less screen time; in fact 30 minutes less per day.

While some young children do not go to preschool or daycare, an effective way to connect with parents consistently is their “well child” checkups. According to Birken, this primary-care guidance is highly regarded by families and provides a key opportunity for physicians to communicate children’s health issues to parents and empower them to make simple changes that can improve their child’s health.  

“Understanding the at-home influences and communicating with parents may help identify optimum timing for interventions,” says Birken.

The research team plans to continue to monitor long-term screen time in children. “The next step is to investigate patterns in media use and how parental factors influence the child’s habits over time,” explains Birken.

This study focused on three-year-old children who are a part of the community-based research network called TARGet Kids! (Toronto Applied Research Group).  TARGet Kids! is a collaborative project between SickKids and St. Michael’s Hospital that brings together child health researchers and community practitioners with the goal to improve children’s health through effective and timely primary care.  

The study was supported through Paediatric Consultants at SickKids and SickKids Foundation.

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system.  SickKids is proud of its vision of Healthier Children. A Better World.™ For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca

About SickKids Research & Learning Tower
SickKids Research & Learning Tower will bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines and a variety of clinical perspectives, to accelerate discoveries, new knowledge and their application to child health — a different concept from traditional research building designs.  The Tower will physically connect SickKids science, discovery and learning activities to its clinical operations.  Designed by award-winning architects Diamond + Schmitt Inc. and HDR Inc. with a goal to achieve LEED® Gold Certification for sustainable design, the Tower will create an architectural landmark as the eastern gateway to Toronto’s Discovery District.  SickKids Research & Learning Tower is funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and community support for the ongoing fundraising campaign. For more information, please visit www.buildsickkids.com.

For more information, please contact:

Suzanne Gold
Communications Specialist – Media Relations
Communications and Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children
Phone: 416-813-7654 ext. 2059
Fax: 416-813-5328
email: [email protected]

Caitlin McNamee-Lamb
Communications Specialist
Communications and Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children
Phone: 416-813-7654 ext. 1436
Fax: 416-813-5328
email: [email protected]

Share on:

MORE FROM Mental Health and Behavior

Health news