January 30, 2019
2 min read

Screen time negatively affects development of young children

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Sheri Madigan

The results of a longitudinal cohort study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggest that a direct relationship exists between screen time and poorer developmental outcomes for children aged between 18 and 60 months.

The AAP currently recommends against screen time for children aged 18 to 24 months, excluding video chats, and no more than 1 hour of high-quality programming a day for children aged 2 to 5 years.

“While it is possible that screen time interferes with opportunities for learning and growth, it is also possible that children with delays receive more screen time to help modulate challenging behaviors,” Sheri Madigan, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Calgary, and colleagues wrote. “Greater clarity on the directionality of associations may be informative for pediatricians and other health care practitioners seeking to guide parents on developmentally appropriate screen exposure, as well as the potential consequences of excessive screen time.”

Madigan and colleagues’ study included 2,441 mothers and children located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, who participated in the All Our Families study, a large prospective pregnancy cohort. Mothers reported the total hours their child spent viewing screens every week, as well as the developmental outcomes listed on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition. All data were collected when children were aged 24, 36 and 60 months.

At 24 months, mothers reported an average of 17.09 hours of screen time a week. Screen time increased at age 36 months (average = 24.99 hours) and dropped at age 60 months (average = 10.5 hours).

The researchers said children who had more screen time between ages 24 and 36 months were more likely to have lower scores on developmental screening tests at age 36 months (beta = –0.08; 95% CI, –0.13 to –0.02). These children also had poorer performance on developmental screening tests at age 60 months (beta = –0.06; 95% CI, –0.13 to –0.02).

Madigan and colleagues analyzed whether poor developmental performance led to increased screen time but found that this was not the case.

The researchers suggested that pediatricians and other health care providers should counsel families on developing a personalized media plan.

“The plans provide guidance on setting and enforcing rules and boundaries regarding media use based on child age, how to devise screen-free zones and device curfews in the home, and how to balance and allocate time for online and offline activities to ensure that physical activity and family interactions are prioritized,” Madigan and colleagues wrote. – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.