The relations of television exposure in infancy and toddlerhood to early elementary cognitive outcomes



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Despite a growing body of research regarding the effects of media on very young children, most studies have focused on relatively short-term effects, and those that examined long-term effects have not done so with a representative sample. The current study examined long-term effects of screen media exposure on children aged 0 to 35 months. The data for this study came from the first and second waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) Child Development Supplement (CDS-I and CDS-II), which offers several advantages in examining the longitudinal relationships between early television exposure and subsequent academic performance. This nationally representative dataset includes a measure of cognitive skills, as well as time diaries that provide a record of how and with whom children spent their time. First, this study examined television viewing contexts likely to be operative in infancy and toddlerhood -- what these children view, whom they co-view with, what they co-view, and what they are doing while the television is on. Second, this study assessed the long-term effects of early exposure to different program content (i.e., child-educational programs, child-noneducational programs & adult programs) on subsequent cognitive outcomes (mainly academic achievement) in early childhood. Finally, the role of parental co-viewing in the long-term effects of exposure to child-educational content on academic skills was examined. Descriptive analyses and multiple OLS regressions were conducted. On weekdays, children were exposed to child-educational content, child-noneducational content and adult content on TV (33 minutes, 29 minutes, 27 minutes, respectively); on weekends, children were exposed to child-educational content, child-noneducational content and adult content on TV (23 minutes, 31 minutes, 31 minutes, respectively). Although it is commonly believed that television displaces time spent with others and playing, nearly half of infants and toddlers' time spent viewing television was spent playing and in social interaction (30% and 16%, respectively). Different relationships emerged among groups with differing amounts of total television exposure: children who were exposed to 1 to 2 hours of television per day had higher academic test scores compared to children who were exposed to less (those who watched no TV at all and those who were exposed to between 0 and 1 hour). As regards television content, the only relationship found was among toddlers exposed to adult content. Toddlers who were exposed to more adult programs in their early years were likely to have worse passage comprehension test scores 5 year later. However, there was no relationship between early exposure to child programs (i.e., child-educational and child-noneducational content) and subsequent academic test scores. Parental co-viewing of child-educational content was positively related to the academic achievement test scores (the passage comprehension test scores and the applied problem scores), indicating that parental co-viewing plays an important role in children's experience of media in infancy and toddlerhood. The findings have implications that may allow us to increase the effectiveness of learning from screen media in infancy and toddlerhood.