Excess Screen Time May Cause Developmental Delays in Young Children

Henrietta Brewer
January 31, 2019

While not the first study to show that too much time spent staring at a screen can impact children's development, it's the first to confirm long-term effects.

The more screen time they had, the poorer they scored on developmental tests when they reached age five.

Dr Max Davie, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: "We would, in the light of this paper, reiterate our advice that families spend time interacting as a family, that screens are not allowed to interfere with sleep, and that screen based interaction is no substitute for in person contact".

These screening tools tested kids regarding their communication, problem-solving, social and motor skills, Madigan said. Caregivers reported on the number of hours their kids spent using electronics devices including TVs, smart phones and tablets, video games and other digital mediums.

By law, childcare centers in West Virginia are prohibited from using screen media under the age of two and screen time is limited to 75 hours a week for each school-aged 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. Or were delayed children, who perhaps had more challenging behaviours, being plunked in front of screens more often to help them (and their parents) cope?

Meanwhile the Canadian Pediatrics Society recommends that children between the age of two and five spend no more than one hour a day in front of a screen.

"We were surprised that children in our study were viewing screens for two to three hours a day", Madigan said.

Experts recommended no screen time for newborns all the way to two-year-olds, and then only one hour per day for kids older than that.

The issue of whether screen time is bad for children has become a battlefield.

In fact, Dr. Davie adds, "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". "Likely, yes", says Dr. Sheri Madigan, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, and member of the Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), lead author of the release. This didn't appear to be true, however - suggesting that the screen time might have contributed to developmental delays, and not that developmental delays might have contributed to kids getting extra screen time.

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.

"These results add important weight to existing concerns that too much screen time can prevent young children from having the best start in life, by potentially reducing important opportunities for social interactions, physical activity and other experiences necessary for development". What they found, unequivocally, is that it's the excess screen time that causes the delays.

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