Infant screen media usage and social-emotional functioning

M.W. Wan, C. Fitch-Bunce, E. Lester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There has been little research on whether and how screen media usage affects social-emotional (SE) function prior to two years of age, even though early SE development is understood to be nurtured through interpersonal experience, mainly withthe primary caregiver. This study sought to characterise infant screen media usage and understand how it may link with concurrent SE function by testing associated effects on reducing parent-infant interaction and of parent psychological factors. Questionnaire responses from 327 UK-based parents of infants aged 6–24 months showed diverse usage in the amount of time spent on screen media (‘screen time’) and amount of parental involvement (co-sharing and co-referencing). Infants with possible SE delay experienced more screen time than those at low risk. The study tested three mediation models and found support for the displacement and not distancing hypothesis based on this community sample. While screen time predicted both SE competence and SE problems, reduced parent-infant play partially mediated the effect on SE competence. Parent depressed mood was positively linked with infant SE problems, but there was little evidence that increased screen time mediated this effect. Also, parent reflective function and attitudes toward parent-infant play were unrelated to screen time. Though longitudinal study is warranted, the findings implicate screen media usage as potentially directly and indirectly relevant when addressing infant mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101509
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Early online date26 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Maternal depression
  • Mother-infant relations
  • Screen media
  • Social-emotional competence
  • Social-emotional problems


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