Published: Thu, January 31, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Too much screen time could affect childhood development

Too much screen time could affect childhood development

The researchers reached that conclusion after analyzing and testing more than 2,400 children.

These tests included measures of their communication skills (for instance, forming full sentences), gross motor skills (running and walking), fine motor skills (tying shoelaces or copying letters), as well as problem-solving, and personal and social skills (serving themselves food).

While pediatricians recommend a maximum of an hour of screen time per day, some preschoolers in Alberta are spending upwards of three hours and 10 minutes in front of a screen.

When followed across three time points, researchers found the children with higher levels of screen time were not meeting their developmental milestones as expected.

That's according to a new study by the University of Calgary that examined the screen-using habits of nearly 2,500 Albertan children over a five year period.

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.

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In an e-mail, Dr. Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in Britain, said the latest study shows only "a weak association between screen time and developmental outcomes".

Writing in the journal Jama Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Waterloo, the University of Calgary and Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute describe how they investigated the issue by looking at the screen time and development of more than 2,400 children between the ages of two and five. "Specifically, how screen time when children are two years of age impacts development at three years, and how screen time at three years impacts development when kids are five", says Madigan, who holds a Canada Research Chair in the Determinants of Child Development. The more time children spend in front of screen, the worse they did on development tests.

The team explains that there are possibly two ways in which the screen time could affect the children. 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. Statistical analysis was used to predict and find an association between more screen time and the test results on the developmental skills.

"What too much screen time leads to is a variety of missed opportunities for learning and development", she added.

Because we only looked at total number of hours on screens, we don't know which apps, games or websites children are using.

Although previous research demonstrated a link between screen time and poor academic performance, new research confirms long-term adverse effects. "Families can develop healthy media habits", she says. Watching with parents or caregivers, for example, can make the experience more engaging and less passive, and can even provide opportunities for learning and social development.

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