Key Research

Risk and Protective Factors for Frequent Electronic Device Use of Online Technologies

Key Takeaways:

  • identify early predictors of frequent use of online technologies
  • Youth displaying early problem behaviors such as physical aggression, disobeying rules, cheating, stealing, and destruction of property were more likely to overuse digital devices
  • Authors recommend healthy parent-child interactions such as book reading, physical activity, and regular sleep to reduce negative use of technology

LiveMore ScreenLess’ Summary

Can parents predict and prevent problematic electronic device use among their children? A 2021 study sought to answer this question by analyzing data sourced from a nationally representative cohort of U.S. children as they progressed from kindergarten to fifth grade. Researchers found that kindergarten children who displayed externalizing problem behavior—such as physical aggression, disobeying rules, cheating, stealing, and destruction of property—were more likely to overuse digital devices by the end of fifth grade.  One explanation proposed by the authors is the tendency of some parents to attempt to manage outbursts by providing frequent access to screens.

Disparities were found among Black and lower-income households, whose children were more likely to overuse digital devices than White and higher-income households, respectively. This may be explained by the greater time, energy, and financial constraints experienced by lower-income parents. Furthermore, high-quality childcare and educational programming may be less accessible to these families. Boys—as well as children with disabilities—were more likely to become frequent users of online gaming, whereas girls were more likely to become frequent users of messaging or social media.

Because frequent device use displaces other developmentally beneficial activities—such as parent-child interactions, book reading, physical activity, and regular sleep—authors recommend supporting the latter to prevent and reduce negative relationships with technology. For example, kindergarten children with greater exposure to emergent literacy activities were less dependent on their devices by fifth grade.

Paul L. Morgan, Yangyang Wang, and Adrienne D. Woods. Risk and Protective Factors for Frequent Electronic Device Use of Online Technologies. Society for Research in Child Development, Volume 92, Issue 2. 2021. 

Topics: Social/Emotional Learning

Year: 2021

Hosting University: Funding support provided by Penn State’s Center for Educational Disparities Research

Participants: 10,460 U.S. elementary schoolchildren

Data Collection: Longitudinal