Excessive screen time hinders optimum development

April 1, 2019
Marian Freedman

Marian Freedman is a freelance writer.

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Michael G Burke, MD

Volume 36, Issue 4

Children aged 24 and 36 months who spend a lot of time in front of screens do less well on standardized developmental screening tests than other children, a longitudinal group study conducted in Canada showed.

Children aged 24 and 36 months who spend a lot of time in front of screens do less well on standardized developmental screening tests than other children, a longitudinal group study conducted in Canada showed.

When their children were aged 24, 36, and 60 months, mothers of the 2441 children in the study completed a developmental screening questionnaire to identify progress with regard to gross and fine motor skills, problem solving, and personal-social development. Mothers also indicated how much time their child spent watching television, movies, videos, or stories, and using computers, gaming systems, and other screen-based devices. On average, children aged 24, 36, and 60 months were in front of a screen for 2.4, 3.6, and 1.6 hours per day, respectively.

Analysis showed that higher levels of screen time at age 24 months were significantly associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests at age 36 months and, similarly, higher screen time exposure at age 36 months was associated with lower scores on the developmental screening tests at age 60 months.

Investigators noted that both screen time and performance on developmental screening tests were associated with factors such as family income, maternal depression, and the child being read to regularly (Madigan S, et al. JAMA Pediatr. January 28, 2019. Epub ahead of print).

Thoughts from Dr Burke

The association between excessive screen time and impaired development has been described before, but this new longitudinal study points to causation, implying that increased screen time leads to decreased development, not that decreased development leads to parents’ relying more heavily on these devices in caring for their children. The risk of screen time may be what it replaces: active play, time spent sharing books, and verbal interaction with caregivers.

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