Some kindergartners are more likely to be heavy users of online tech later, according to new research
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The big idea
Specific groups of kindergartners in the U.S. are more likely to be frequent users of social networking, online gaming or messaging by the end of fifth grade, according to our new study in the journal Child Development. My colleagues and I identified these groups based on analyses of data from 10,460 U.S. schoolchildren followed over six years. Understanding which children are frequent users of online technologies is important because such use may displace developmentally appropriate activities including physical activity, sleep and independent book reading.
We found that kindergarten children who were aggressive or often acted out were more likely to use these online technologies multiple times a day at the end of elementary school, as were children from low-income families. Black children were also more likely to later be frequent users of online technologies.
Boys were more likely to be frequent users of online gaming, while girls were more likely to be heavy users of social networking and messaging.
Children of parents who emphasized early literacy activities and who set limits on watching TV were less likely later to be frequent users of online technologies.
Our study provides new information about which U.S. kindergartners are more likely to later be frequent users of online technologies. This new information can help inform public health campaigns for families most at risk. Routines that promote optimal levels of online technology use, physical activity, sleep, book reading and other activities should help children develop physically, cognitively, academically and behaviorally.
What still isn’t known
Our study has limitations. Our results may be conservative because children self-reported how frequently they used online technologies. Data collection ended before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Setting screen time routines that help children meet recommended guidelines for physical play, sleep, book reading and other beneficial developmental activities may help prevent overuse of online technologies. Limiting children’s access during homework, shared mealtimes and within one hour of bedtime may also help. Families can set rules limiting access to electronic devices. Parents could encourage early literacy activities that help children become independent readers.
Educators and health providers can inform parents about the repeatedly observed negative associations between frequent use of online technologies and children’s development, as well as support and assist families in setting up screen time routines.