Screen time linked to learning delays in young children, new study finds

01 February, 2019, 06:09 | Author: Lillian Steele
  • Study links excessive screen time to developmental delays in children

The findings suggest too much screen time really can hold back children, the researchers said.

Researchers say a pattern quickly came into focus: the more time children spent in front of their devices, the worse they did on tests.

The research, conducted in part by University of Calgary assistant professor of psychology Sheri Madigan, looked at the electronic-device habits of nearly 2,500 women and their children, who were aged 2 to 5. "When children are in front of screens, the important parent-child interactions aren't happening".

In the study, 2-year-olds spent about 17 hours a week in front of a screen. A similar result was found when children's screen time at three years old was compared with their development at five years. These amounts exceed the Canadian Pediatrics Society's recommended pediatric guideline which states that children aged two to five spend no more than one hour per day with high-quality programming, geared towards learning and development. They analyzed how much screen time the children received, and how they fared on developmental screening tests, at ages two, three and five.

Madigan says that because children's brains are constantly developing over the course of childhood and beyond, there's still time to take steps in the right direction.

The researchers found that over time, children who spent more time using TV or computers did indeed show poorer performance on the developmental measures.

Development includes growth in communication, motor skills, problem-solving and personal social skills, based on a screening tool called the Ages and Stages Questionnaire.

We used a longitudinal design to understand whether higher levels of screen time predict how kids are doing, or whether kids who struggle get put in front of screens more to help manage their challenging behaviours.

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The scientists added: "When young children are observing screens, they may be missing important opportunities to practice and master interpersonal, motor and communication skills". "This study shows that, when used in excess, screen time can have consequences for children's development".

According to Kalady, the early years are critical for children to spend quality face-to-face time with parents and caregivers, as this time together enables children to learn how to interact both verbally and nonverbally.

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.

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".

Experts said parents should keep those statistics in mind while children are stuck in the house for most of the week due to unsafe winter weather.

The study seems to contradict a new guide released by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the United Kingdom earlier this month, which found that many claims about the dangers of screen time may be exaggerated.

"Parents should actively encourage their children to engage in a range of activities which promote their child's development and give them as much face-to-face time as possible".

Girls were more likely to score higher on developmental tests (β 0.23, 95% CI 0.18-0.27) and tended to have less screen time (β -0.06, 95% CI -0.11 to -0.02).

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