Background It is well understood that the first five years of life are crucial to future health, wellbeing and success, and that large inequalities are evident early in life. While research into inequalities amongst families is not new, understanding how a child’s access to mobile technology may impact the transmission of inequality from parent to child is. Scientific literature exploring screen time exposure mainly predates the current reality of mobile technology being ubiquitous household items. It also predominantly relies on parent reports of children’s screen use. Leveraging off an existing prospective cohort study which began in 2017, this study aims to quantify the amount of screen time children are exposed to during the early years, understand socioeconomic disparities and whether screen exposure makes a difference to child development.
Methods This study utilises innovative speech recognition technology called Language Environment Analysis (LENA), which can quantify the amount of electronic noise heard by a child over a 16-hour day. LENA data is collected once every six months from 6 – 48 months of age, with children stratified by two levels of maternal education (secondary school only, university degree plus). Descriptive statistics of screen use will be presented cross-sectionally by age and maternal education groups.
Results At 6 months children within the low education grouping heard 64.23 (SD 67.63) minutes of electronic noise and 58.10 (SD 51.16) at 12 months. This compares with 31.34 (SD 43.36) at 6 months and 41.93 (SD 50.10) minutes at 12 months for those in the high education grouping. Limitations in understanding screen use through the categorisation of ‘electronic noise’ through the LENA sound recognition software will be overcome through manual transcription of audio recordings by human transcribers. Comparisons of LENA data and human transcription will be presented.
Conclusion This is the first study to objectively quantify children’s screen use in the first year of life within a contemporary sample. Current screen time guidelines recommend under the age of 2 years children should not be exposed to any screens. Our data indicates, for the majority of families this is simply not the case. The results from the current study also highlight inequalities in screen use, raising questions of whether screen use is contributing to the continuing disparities in developmental outcomes by school entry, something our study aims to investigate as it progresses.
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