Effectiveness of a brief parental intervention to prevent problematic screen media use in children four to seven years of age – a prospective, controlled cluster study

Screen media usage is a major public health issue. The ideal path of age-adequate media use in the family runs from protecting small children from screen media exposure to limiting time, content and bedroom media ownership as well as accompanying responsible use of elder children to a step-by-step release of youths into taking on their own responsibility for a limited, skilled and critically informed use. Media education is a challenge for the majority of parents, and real media use paths are far from this ideal, with dire consequences: Longitudinal studies report excessive use of screen media during childhood to be connected to a number of negative outcomes, namely tobacco use, obesity, poor educational performance, alcohol use and drug use, decreased sleep quality, loss of empathy/aggression, and video game dependency. Children with lower socio economic status are more severely affected: This is true for all three sub dimensions of problematic media use (equipment/time, content and functionality). In Germany, 10-year-olds with low parental education level owned TV three times more often and gaming consoles four times more often than in high parental education families. Daily usage times as well as bedroom screen equipment increase substantially during kindergarten and elementary school years. Higher bedroom screen equipment is associated with longer screen time, which in turn goes along with the consumption of a higher percentage of problematic content Media use paths are difficult to change once they are established.
Primary prevention of problematic media use is a neglected issue although ever younger age groups spend ever increasing portions of their time with screen media. A universal preventive approach has been successfully implemented internationally, but neglected in Germany except for a few promising approaches still lacking evaluation of effectiveness. The only German RCT evaluated universal intervention developed by CRI-LS showed a short-term reduction for bedroom screen equipment, reduction of dysfunctional use and improved school achievement. Based on these findings, CRI-LS developed a new parent- targeted intervention to reduce problematic media use in children that takes into account current neuropsychological, psychosocial, and media effects research including recent findings on risk factors for addictive use of the internet and of video games, it uses a new integrated approach addressing all three dimensions of problematic media use (time, content and functionality). The aim is a reduction in screen time and media equipment in children´s bedrooms by way of supporting and informing parents.

Prof. Dr. Eva-Maria Bitzer
-subproject leader-
Freiburg University of Education
PD Dr. Thomas Mößle
Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony
Hanna Schwendemann
Freiburg University of Education
hanna.schwendemann@ph-freiburg.dein parental leave
Anja Stiller
Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony
Simone Flaig
Freiburg University of Education
Lea Kuntz
Freiburg University of Education

MEDIA PROTECT e.V. is a non profit association and an associated member of the HLCA consortium. Please contact Paula Bleckmann.