Too much screen time stunts early children's development

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Researchers found that greater amounts of screen time from ages 2 to 3 were associated with significantly poorer performance when their development was assessed at ages 3 and 5. "So it's OK to watch screens and use screens, but it's best if that's done in an interactive way with caregivers and young children co-viewing together, and then there's limits on it".

The study showed the children were watching television or using digital devices for an average of 2.4 hours a day at age two, 3.6 hours at age three, and 1.6 hours at age five. These amounts all exceed the Canadian Pediatric Society's recommended guidelines of no more than one hour a day (of preferably educational programming) for kids between two and five years old.

"The more screen time these children have, the less likely they are developing their fine motor skills through playing with toys, dressing dolls, doing art and things like that", said Dr. Dillon Browne, a child psychologist who worked on the study.

Children in the study had an average of 17 hours of screen time a week when they were two years old, and 25 hours a week by the time they were three.

Researchers, doctors, public health officials and parents are all trying to make sense of the impact of screen time on children. This screening tool looked at measures of development such as problem-solving skills, motor skills, communication and personal social skills. But before you conclude that this proves how such devices are bad, the study goes into detail on the link between screen time and learning. "When a child is watching a screen, he or she is missing out on the opportunity for walking, talking and interacting with others".

"Excessive screen time can impinge on children's ability to develop optimally", they write.

The team explains that there are possibly two ways in which the screen time could affect the children. That also includes computers, gaming devices, and even TVs.

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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".

"In fact the data shows that the association with screen time is weaker than that between developmental outcomes and good sleep, reading to the child, and maternal positivity", he said. Our suggestion is to treat screen time like we do junk food with kids: "A little is OK, but too much is a problem", she said.

Glowinski compared the field to earlier research aimed at creating the healthiest meals for children. They recommend implementing a family media plan.

As for the parents who have already fallen into the pitfalls of too much screen time for their young children, Madigan stresses they need not despair.

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.

But the results have been contested by others in the field who say the study did not take into account what the children were using the screens for, and that the influence of screens had a smaller effect than other factors such as family income, the child's sleep and whether they were read to.

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