Study: US kindergarteners acting out likely to become heavy online users

Study: US kindergarteners acting out likely to become heavy online users
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A new study has revealed that kindergarteners in the US who act out are more likely to become heavy users of online platforms.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, showed that US kindergarteners who were aggressive or often acted out were more likely to become heavy users of social networking, online gaming or messaging by the end of fifth grade.

Kindergarteners and online use

The researchers analyzed data from 10,460 US schoolchildren followed over six years, to identify which children are frequent users of online technologies that may displace developmentally appropriate activities, such as physical activity, sleep and independent book reading.

Aside from aggressive children and those who acted out frequently, children from low-income families and black children were found to more likely to later be frequent users of online technologies.

Results also showed that 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.

On the other hand, children of parents emphasizing early literacy activities and limiting TV watching were less likely later to be frequent users of online technologies.

Parents, teachers, and health providers have all expressed concern over the increasingly frequent use of these online technologies, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking apps, online video gaming through Xbox, PlayStation or smartphones, and messaging via WhatsApp, Snapchat or texts.

According to the researchers, frequent use of online technologies may be taking up time from developmentally beneficial activities, including physical activity, sleep, parent-child interactions and independent book reading.

They pointed out that children who were frequent online technology users are more likely to be sedentary, sleep-deprived and overweight, to struggle academically or behaviorally in school, and to self-report poorer quality of life and mental health.

Limitations and recommendations

Results of the study may be conservative since data on the use of online technologies were based on children’s self-reported numbers and data gathering ended prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The researchers admit that results of the study are not causal and they are yet to determine why specific groups of children are more likely to later be frequent users of online technologies.

They also recognize the limited amount of evidence linking children’s use of online technologies to harm and that it may be limited to frequent users of specific technologies from specific populations.

However, the researchers pointed out that identifying which young children are more likely to later be frequent users of online technologies at an early stage may help families prevent problematic use.

They argued that since girls are more likely to be harmed by frequent social networking increased cyberbullying exposure and feelings of body weight dissatisfaction as well as decreased sleep and exercise, families may consider limiting social networking and messaging during this early developmental period.

The study also suggests that 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.