Examine prospective associations between parent-reported early childhood self-regulation problems and media exposure (television and video viewing) at 2 years. We hypothesized that children with poor self-regulation would consume more media, possibly as a parent coping strategy.
We used data from 7450 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort. When children were 9 months and 2 years old, parents completed the Infant Toddler Symptom Checklist (ITSC), a validated scale of self-regulation. With daily media use at 2 years as our outcome, we conducted weighted multivariable regression analyses, controlling for child, maternal, and household characteristics.
Children watched an average of 2.3 hours per day (SD 1.9) of media at age 2 years. Infants with poor self-regulation (9-month ITSC score ≥3) viewed 0.23 hour per day (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.12–0.35) more media at 2 years compared with those with 9-month ITSC score of 0 to 2; this remained significant in adjusted models (0.15 hour per day [95% CI 0.02–0.28]). Children rated as having persistent self-regulation problems (ITSC ≥3 at both 9 months and 2 years) were even more likely to consume media at age 2 (adjusted β 0.21 hour per day [95% CI 0.03–0.39]; adjusted odds ratio for >2 hours per day 1.40 [95% CI 1.14–1.71]). These associations were slightly stronger in low socioeconomic status and English-speaking households.
Early childhood self-regulation problems are associated with mildly increased media exposure, even after controlling for important confounding variables. Understanding this relationship may provide insight into helping parents reduce their children’s screen time.