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Are screens to blame? Children’s digital media use and emotional problems during the COVID-19 pandemic
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This study examined the relationship between digital media (“screen use”) and mental health in children during the COVID-19 pandemic. A multinational sample of caregivers (n = 549) provided bi-monthly reports on their families and two children aged 5–18 (n = 1098) between May and November 2020. Measures included children’s screen time, mental health symptoms (depression, anxiety, anger), and lifestyle factors, as well as family-wide COVID-19 disruptions and parental screen time. A longitudinal, multilevel sibling comparison design was employed to disentangle child-specific versus family-wide associations, in addition to the direction of effects. Specifically, associations were assessed via multilevel cross-lagged panel models, in which siblings (Level 1) were nested within families (Level 2). Three-level growth curve models were also fit to examine child-specific and family-wide predictors of children’s screen time. The directional associations between mental health symptoms and screen time were inconsistent within families. Between families, sibling pairs with higher depressive and anxiety symptoms in July showed more screen use two months later. Additionally, higher screen time in July predicted more anxiety in September. Growth models revealed that mental health challenges had little predictive effect on screen time in the context of other lifestyle factors, but parental screen use was a salient predictor. These results collectively demonstrate that family-wide contextual effects cast important influences on screen use, emotional well-being, and their associations. Moreover, the findings emphasize the need for a whole-family approach to studying and managing children’s screen use.
Cite this version of the work
Jasmine (Yuxin) Zhang (2022). Are screens to blame? Children’s digital media use and emotional problems during the COVID-19 pandemic. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18485