What does screen time do to toddler brains?


The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that parents limit screen use for preschool children ages two to five to one hour a day of high-quality programming. — Bay Area News Group/TNS

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that parents limit screen use for preschool children ages two to five to one hour a day of high-quality programming. — Bay Area News Group/TNS

Is too much screen time linked to poor performance on developmental screening tests? A recent study confirms what many parents have long feared. 

Spending a lot of time staring at screens as a toddler is linked with poorer performance on developmental screening tests later in childhood, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics

The Canadian study tracked the early childhood development of 2,441 children and found that higher levels of screen time at ages two and three can affect development at ages three and five. Development includes growth in communication, motor skills, problem-solving and social skills. Signs of such development can be seen in behaviours like being able to stack a small block or toy on top of another one. 

"This study shows that, when used in excess, screen time can have consequences for children's development. Parents can think of screens like they do giving junk food to their kids: In small doses, it's OK, but in excess, it has consequences," Sheri Madigan, an assistant professor and research chair in determinants of child development at the University of Calgary, who was lead author of the study, told CNN. 

There are caveats to the Canadian study. For example, researchers note that "it is unclear if greater screen time predicts lower performance scores on developmental screening tests or if children with poor developmental performance receive added screen time as a way to modulate challenging behaviour". 

How much screen time is too much? The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that parents limit screen use for preschool children ages two to five to one hour a day of high-quality programming. Most children in the study had two to three hours of screen time per day. 

This is bad news for all the parents who started out whipping out the iPad to get through endless checkout lines, traffic delays and dinner prep time and found out that kids just can't get enough screen time. Popular games like Fortnite and Roblox are tough for children to put down. 

"It's addictive," said David Wanderman, a paediatrician with Stanford Children's Health. "Anything that gives you a dopamine hit makes you feel good so that it makes you want to do it again and again. Social media and video games trigger that reward response." 

Children of all ages in the United States spend no more than seven hours a day in front of a screen. That includes watching TV, working on a computer or playing video games, according to the US National Library of Medicine. 

Experts warn that too much screen time can also make it hard for your child to sleep at night, raise your child's risk for attention problems, anxiety, and depression, and heighten the risk of obesity. – The San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service