Frequent use of digital devices for calming young children might affect their development

Mobile devices are frequently used to keep young children entertained or calm. A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health investigates the longitudinal, bidirectional associations between the frequency of using mobile devices to calm young children as reported by parents and children’s executive functioning (EF) and emotional reactivity.

Increased use of mobile devices for calming children aged 3 to 5 years was found to be associated with decreased executive functioning and increased emotional reactivity at baseline in this cohort study of 422 parents and 422 children. However, only emotional reactivity had bidirectional, longitudinal associations with device use for calming at 3 and 6 months of follow-up. The associations were discovered to be stronger in boys and children who had a higher temperamental surgency.

The findings of this study suggest that using mobile devices to calm young children may displace their opportunities to learn emotion-regulation strategies over time.