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

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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.


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.


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).


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.

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