Too much screen time harmful for children's development

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Share on PinterestChildren who have too much screen time at age 2 can have learning delays by age 3, researchers say. Almost 2,500 Alberta families participated in the project and documented their children's screen time. Parents can think of screens like they do giving junk food to their kids: "In small doses, it's OK, but in excess, it has consequences". The AAP also recommends that children aged 2 to 5 years should use gadgets only one hour per day, while those aged 6 years and up should be given consistent limits.

The team explains that there are possibly two ways in which the screen time could affect the children.

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. Data was collected at least once for each child.

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. Statistical analysis was used to predict and find an association between more screen time and the test results on the developmental skills.

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The researchers said a clear trend emerged. "The results show that there is a lasting influence of screen time, especially when children are two to five years old, when their brains are undergoing a period of tremendous development", Madigan says.

"Quality screen time is possible, but we need to take a look at what our kids are doing with the devices", Dr. Alex Dimitriu, board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California, told Healthline. The data was also based on mothers' reports and may be subject to bias.

"Our study identifies a correlation between two things, and this does not mean that one causes the other", Madigan said. She said that, from her point of view, the new findings "actually support the AAP recommendations regarding screen time".

"The conclusions drawn are overly strong for the method used", said Przybylski, who was not involved in the study.

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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.

Those who spent much more time staring at the TV, tablets, or a computer had lower scores on developmental screenings a few years later.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "This is the first study to show that increased use of screen time in very young children can be associated with slower development". The indirect effects of screens are the missed opportunities such as play time, physical activity time and social time with friends and family. Those guidelines include avoiding digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months, except for video chatting.

Kalady said parents often don't give themselves enough credit that they are able to teach their children better than a device can.

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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.