Medicine

Excessive screen time may lead to delayed preschool learning

Excessive screen time may lead to delayed preschool learning

To determine that, gold-standard experimental designs that randomly assign children to receive or not receive screen time, and then see how they develop, are needed.

Dr. Madigan and her team examined data from a long-running project called the All Our Families study, which has been tracking thousands of Calgary mothers and their children, starting from pregnancy, since 2008.

The study, released earlier this week tracked 2,500 young children in the Calgary area between 2011 and 2016, with families reporting on the number of hours their children spent in front of a screen. A similar result was found when children's screen time at three years old was compared with their development at five years.

These numbers far exceed recommendations by the Canadian Paediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics - that children between two and five years view no more than one hour of high-quality programming per day.

"The more screen time kids received, the more delayed they are on these developmental outcomes", Madigan said.

The research showed that children ages 2-5 that had greater screen time performed poorer on developmental screenings.

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

"Screens have become a significant concern for parents, so we wanted to find out more about how screen time was impacting children's developmental trajectories", Sheri Madigan, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Calgary and lead study author, told Healthline. "We are getting at these lasting effects", she added of the study.

"Screen time should at least be an educational experience, not just a shiny distraction", Dimitriu said.

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The study wasn't a controlled experiment created to prove whether or how screen time early in childhood might directly impact development outcomes later in childhood.

The study adds to a continuing debate over whether frequent use of video games, televisions and other digital media actually harms children's health and ability to learn.

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".

The researchers also tested for reverse causation, that is, they wanted to know whether parents chose to put toddlers with developmental problems in front of screens more than toddlers without developmental problems. Mothers also reported the range of time their children spent using screen devices on a typical weekday and weekend day.

Madigan was supported by the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation and the Canada Research Chairs program.

Families can work to balance digital media in the home, and we believe that digital mediums can be used positively.

Madigan encourages parents and guardians to set a good example and attempt to engage their children while they're watching the devices. "When parents watch with their children, they can point out interesting things and contribute to language skills and learning".

Spending time on a screen might cause kids to miss opportunities for learning. It's when they are used in excess that problems likely arise.


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