Screen time predicts delays in child development, says new research

Screen time predicts delays in child development, says new research

Screen time predicts delays in child development, says new research

One in four Canadian children are not developmentally ready for school by the time they start kindergarten, and a new study suggests excessive screen time may be a key contributor.

While pediatricians recommend a maximum of an hour of screen time per day, some preschoolers in Alberta are spending upwards of three hours and 10 minutes in front of a screen.

Overall, mothers reported their children spent a mean 2.4 hours a day on screens at age 24 months, 3.6 hours a day at 36 months, and 1.6 hours a day at 60 months, they reported. "When they're in front of their screens, these important parent-child interactions aren't happening, and this can delay or derail children's development".

On average children spent about 17 hours a week in front of screens at two years old, increasing to nearly 25 hours a week at three years, before falling to 11 hours a week at five years of age.

The study reviewed the viewing habits of children between the ages of two and five over the period of five years.

The researchers found that children who spend more time with screen when they were two years old did worse on tests of development at age three compared with the children who spent little time with the devices.

Writing in the journal Jama Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Waterloo, the University of Calgary and Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute describe how they investigated the issue by looking at the screen time and development of more than 2,400 children between the ages of two and five.

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These tests included measures of their communication skills (for instance, forming full sentences), gross motor skills (running and walking), fine motor skills (tying shoelaces or copying letters), as well as problem-solving, and personal and social skills (serving themselves food).

The amount of time two and three-year-olds devoted to screen-gazing had a negative effect on their performance at three and five.

"Screen time should at least be an educational experience, not just a shiny distraction", Dimitriu said. Almost 2,500 Alberta families participated in the project and documented their children's screen time.

The opposite association - poorer developmental progress leading to more screen time - was not observed. That also includes computers, gaming devices, and even TVs. "We're living in busy modern times, and our attention is often pulled in numerous directions, resulting in less time for parenting", Dimitriu said.

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. 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. What they found, unequivocally, is that it's the excess screen time that causes the delays.

She recommends that families establish a media plan, sitting down together and deciding how often, where and how devices are going to be used. "In other studies, we've found that when parents put limits on the amount and content of children's screen media, it is a powerful protective factor for a wide range of children's health and wellness indicators". That all adds up to an overload of screen time.

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