Many children already come in contact with mobile phones and tablets as babies. Still, there is a lack of knowledge about very young children's use of screens. An ongoing research project wants to address this.

The research project extends over four years and includes 20 children aged 0 to 3 years and their families. The researchers make three home visits to each family.

“We are interested in digital media, childhood, and what constitutes good parenting. The latter is expressed through your own media use and which media your child uses. Maybe your partner thinks you use the mobile phone too much in the children's presence or you feel it yourself and hide your media use behind a book,” says Ulrika Sjöberg, professor of media and communication studies.

The fact that young children have access to technology does not necessarily mean that they use it. The researchers therefore follow each family during a day that is filmed and edited into a short film that the parents can reflect on during visit three.

Research also shows that it is not time that is decisive, but rather what the child does on the screen and with whom.

Ulrika Sjöberg

How you as a parent yourself grew up also affects your view of screen use, believes Sjöberg. There is room for maneuver in the household and negotiations are constantly underway. There are many areas of conflict here, such as the use, selection and monitoring of children's digital play.

“We want to contribute with a more nuanced approach rather than that it is good or bad. The parents who chose to participate did so because they want more research and advice.”

However, studying young children has its challenges from a research perspective. Researchers undergo ethical testing.

The first scientific article published from the pilot study, studies two Swedish children. They can see that the parents experience ambivalence and difficulties in dealing with young children's screen use. The parents have developed strategies, such as postponing the introduction as long as possible. The interviews with the parents show that they both struggle to encourage and limit the use of digital media, which shows the contradiction in screen use in young children.

The ambivalence is great about young children's screen use. On the one hand, it is stated in the preschool curriculum that the preschool must lay the foundation for digital competence and for this it is required that digital media is present. On the other hand, there are other values and structures in the private sphere.

Media headlines are alternately encouraging, alternately discouraging; warnings about potential harmful effects on children's development , parents are accused of lacking control, or using screens as babysitters.

In addition, according to the latest WHO advice, children under the age of two should not have any screen time at all.

“There is a need for more discussion about the WHO's recommendations; which studies these are based on, and not least which media have been researched. Research also shows that it is not time that is decisive, but rather what the child does on the screen and with whom. It does not benefit the parents to be ashamed, which the WHO's recommendations can suggest,” says Sjöberg.

Text: Ellen Albertsdottir