Based on data for more than 3600 children in eight European countries, researchers found that family functioning and emotional wellbeing were especially linked to changes in the amount of time kids spent in front of screens.
The study's lead author said they can't say what factors may be behind the associations. "We really need to do a little bit more digging in this area before we can answer some of the basic questions," Trina Hinkley told Reuters Health.
Hinkley is a research fellow at the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Melbourne....
....For the new study, researchers from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Consortium analyzed data on kids who were between two and six years of age when they entered the study between September 2007 and June 2008.
At that time, the parents completed questionnaires about their children's media use and wellbeing - including the child's emotional and peer problems, self-esteem and family and social functioning. Parents answered another questionnaire two years later.
Overall, the researchers found that for social and peer-related measures, screen time had no effect. But for each additional hour or so of screen time parents reported, a child's risk of emotional and family problems rose up to two-fold.
"We found that family functioning and emotional problems did seem to have some association with electronic media, but the others didn't show any association at all," Hinkley said.
Linda Pagani, who was not involved in the new study but has researched screen time among children, cautioned that there may be other explanations behind some of the results. "It could be that families who used screen time more were families who weren't functioning that well to begin with," she said.
Recent research has also linked screen time with childhood weight gain, and suggested that screen usage during meals may have negative effects on family relationships.
Image: Girl in front of a laptop, via Shutterstock