Preschool children’s screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic: associations with family characteristics and children’s anxiety/withdrawal and approaches to learning

Xiangzi OUYANG, Xiao ZHANG*, Qiusi ZHANG, Xin GONG, Ronghua ZHANG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

Abstract

With schools closed due to the COVID-19, many children have been exposed to media devices for learning and entertainment, raising concerns over excessive screen time for young children. The current study examined how preschoolers’ screen time was associated with their family characteristics and anxiety/withdrawal and approaches to learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were 764 caregivers of 3- to 6-year-old children (mean age = 59.07 months, SD = 12.28 months; 403 boys and 361 girls) from nine preschools in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic started. The effects of family characteristics on children’s screen time during the pandemic outbreak and the associations between screen time and children’s anxiety/withdrawal and approaches to learning were examined using path analysis. The results showed that children who spent more time on interactive screen use (e.g., playing with tablets) showed higher levels of anxiety/withdrawal and fewer positive learning behaviors. Unexpectedly, children who spent more time on noninteractive screen use (e.g., watching TV) showed lower levels of anxiety/withdrawal. Additionally, children’s screen time was related to family characteristics: children living in more chaotic families with fewer screen time restrictions spent more time on screen use after the pandemic outbreak. The findings suggest that young children’s frequent use of interactive screens, such as tablets and smartphones, might be harmful to their learning and wellbeing during the pandemic. To mitigate the potential negative effects, it is essential to manage the screen time of preschoolers by establishing rules for their interactive screen use and improving the household routines related to the overall screen use.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalCurrent Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding:
The University of Hong Kong provided financial support for the conduct of the research via its Research Output Prize to the corresponding author. The funding source had no involvement in the study design, the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, the preparation and writing of the report, or the decision to submit the article for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

Keywords

  • Anxiety and withdrawal
  • Approaches to learning
  • COVID-19
  • Screen time
  • Young children

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