Screen time linked to learning delays in young children, new study finds

Study links excessive screen time to developmental delays in children

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.

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.

According to the scientists, children should spend less than two hours in front of a screen, sleep between 9 and 11 hours per day, and be active to develop normally. Screen time should be limited to video chatting for babies and toddlers.

The Univerity of Calgary studied the effects of screen time for over 2,500 families with children ages 24, 36 and 60 months old.

She says her study provides some clearer answers to this "chicken or egg question", and indicates that excessive screen time is likely a key contributor to recent research findings that show one-quarter of Canadian children are ill-prepared for learning when they begin school. For example, when children are observing screens without an interactive or physical component, they are more sedentary and, therefore, not practicing gross motor skills, such as walking and running, which in turn may delay development in this area.

That strongly supports expert guidelines that recommend limiting screen time for young children, when the brain is rapidly developing new connections and learning from every cue it receives.

The research, conducted in part by University of Calgary assistant professor of psychology Sheri Madigan, looked at the electronic-device habits of nearly 2,500 women and their children, who were aged 2 to 5. Both organizations do not allow more than an hour of screen time for children between ages two and five. Was too much screen time causing developmental delays?

At two years, three years, and five years, mothers were asked to record how much time their child spent using screens, including time in front of the TV, computer or other devices.

Canadian psychologists concluded, "The present study examined developmental outcomes during a critical period of growth and maturation, revealing that screen time can impinge on children's ability to develop optimally". And research shows that 98 per cent of children are now living in a home with an internet-connected device, with kids spending a considerable amount of their time online.

But, while the temptation to keep rowdy children quiet using TV and digital devices can be strong, parents need to focus on what's really important.

She added: "Parents should actively encourage their children to engage in a range of activities which promote their child's development and give them as much face-to-face time as possible". From motor skills to social interaction to cognitive development, kids only learn these through actual human contact and physical activities, not from watching the same on YouTube. Parents should also choose high-quality shows and watch them with their children.

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