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Screen Time as a Mechanism Through Which Cumulative Risk is Related to Child Socioemotional and Developmental Outcomes in Early Childhood

Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
Brae Anne McArthur, Dillon Browne, Nicole Racine, Suzanne Tough, Sheri Madigan
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Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10802-021-00895-w.
Suzanne Tough and Sheri Madigan shared senior authorship

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Socio-demographic risks are associated with higher child screen time and higher screen time is associated with poor socioemotional and developmental health. Existing studies have not examined children’s screen time as a mechanism through which distal risks may be associated with child outcomes. In the current study, we examined whether two proximal factors, screen time and parenting quality, mediate the relation between distal cumulative risk and child outcomes. Participants (N = 1992) were drawn from a birth cohort of mothers and their children (81% white; 46% female). Mothers reported on cumulative risk factors (maternal income, education, depression, stress, marital status, housing instability, unemployment, and maternal history of childhood adversity) during the prenatal period. Parenting quality (ineffective/hostile, positive interactions) and children’s screen time (hours/week) were assessed when children were three years of age. Child socioemotional (internalizing and externalizing problems) and developmental (achievement of developmental milestones) outcomes were measured at five years of age. Path analysis revealed indirect effects from cumulative risk to internalizing symptoms and achievement of developmental milestones via screen time. Indirect effects were observed from cumulative risk to internalizing and externalizing behavior via hostile parenting behavior. Over and above the effects of parenting, screen time may be a factor that links structural forms of social disadvantage during the prenatal period to child socioemotional and developmental outcomes. Due to modest effect sizes of screen time, it remains the case that child socioemotional and developmental health should be conceptualized within the context of distal cumulative risk factors such as caregiver psychological and material resources.

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