Too Much Screen Time Can Have Lasting Consequences for Young Children's Brains

Faith Castro
February 1, 2019

Mothers reported on how much time their children spent in front of a television or computer screen on a typical day, and also reported on developmental measures by answering questions about their children's communication skills, behavior and social interactions.

Findings of a new Canadian study have found a link between high levels of screen time and delayed development in children.

"What is new in this study is that we are studying really young children, so aged 2-5, when brain development is really rapidly progressing and also child development is unfolding so rapidly", Dr Sheri Madigan, first author of the study from the University of Calgary, told the Guardian.

The study also relied on questionnaires completed only by mothers and did not consider what the child was using the screen for, or whether they were using it alone.

Madigan found that on average, the children in the study were spending about 2-3 hours a day in front of a screen. Both organizations do not allow more than an hour of screen time for children between ages two and five.

These numbers far exceed recommendations by the Canadian Paediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics - that children between two and five years view no more than one hour of high-quality programming per day.

Preschoolers who spend more time staring at cellphone or laptop screens are less likely to perform well on development screening exams when they turn 3 years old, according to a recent study published on JAMA Pediatrics.

Our study revealed that on average children were viewing screens for 2.4, 3.6 and 1.6 hours per day at two, three and five years of age, respectively.

"It looks at communication skills, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, and the social and emotional skills".

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The study wasn't a controlled experiment created to prove whether or how screen time early in childhood might directly impact development outcomes later in childhood.

Kalady said it's helpful to set up limits and expectations early, because it's easier to start off with healthy screen time habits than it is to scale back once you've already begun.

The new study provides insight into how technology impacts individual young people over time, "but increases in screen time observed here indicate between about 0.36% 0.64% of the variability in decreases in the developmental outcome".

However, she added that parents shouldn't panic, since the field of research into screen time and its effects on development is in its infancy.

Madigan recommends parents learn more about screen time guidelines for children. Furthermore, it did not show which areas of development in particular were most affected by screen time or give an idea of how much was too much when it came to using devices.

She recommends that families establish a media plan, sitting down together and deciding how often, where and how devices are going to be used.

Earlier this month, Britain's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health released its guide on screen time for clinicians and parents, stating there is "essentially no evidence" to support the popular idea that screen time is directly "toxic" to one's health.

Reduce children's screen time by encouraging activities such as reading, physical play, arts, and crafts.

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