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

Grant Boone
January 31, 2019

"Parents should also be aware of how much time they are spending on their screens in front of their children".

Researchers say limiting children's time with electronic devices isn't easy, but there are ways to do it.

Researchers recommended that families consider putting together a media plan to manage screen time as a way to prevent excess use.

Compared to toddlers with less screen time, two-year-olds with more screen time tended to score lower, at age three, on developmental screening tests that measured communication, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, and social skills. The children averaged 17.09 hours, 24.99 hours, 10.85 hours per week at two, three and five years of age, respectively.

A new study argues that's precisely the case - screen time can affect how well children perform on developmental tests.

Share on PinterestChildren who have too much screen time at age 2 can have learning delays by age 3, researchers say.

She added that screens can also be used in a positive way, if the screen time is in moderation, and when it's shared as a family.

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"What the study shows is that when kids are watching screen time they're not actually getting opportunities to practice those really important developmental skills that can set them on a path to success", explained Madigan. This amount of time these children spend on screen far exceeded the recommendations of the Canadian Paediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics that children between 2 and 5 years old do not exceed more than one hour of high-quality programming per day, or less than seven hours per week.

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 more time children spend in front of screen, the worse they did on development tests.

"I don't think you can say all screen time is the same, but you have to ask yourself 'What is the screen time for?'" CTV medical expert Dr. Marla Shapiro told CTV News Channel. The indirect effects of screens are the missed opportunities such as play time, physical activity time and social time with friends and family.

Madigan was supported by the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation and the Canada Research Chairs program. That also includes computers, gaming devices, and even TVs.

Many studies have looked at the connection between screen time and developmental issues at one point in time, but by following the children over many years, Madigan and her team could learn more about how screen time and development interact.

The group found that negative effects linked to screen time are mostly a result of choosing screen time over activities such as sleeping, eating well, exercising, and socializing, rather than a direct negative effect.

Madigan encourages parents and guardians to set a good example and attempt to engage their children while they're watching the devices. 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.

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