Screen Time Use Increases Three-Fold Among Toddlers: Study
Thu, April 22, 2021

Screen Time Use Increases Three-Fold Among Toddlers: Study

The use of a computer or TV increases during a child's toddler years in the US while preschoolers in Canada fail to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations for screen time / Photo by: somemeans via Shutterstock

 

The use of a computer or TV increases during a child's toddler years in the US while preschoolers in Canada fail to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations for screen time, as per two new studies that appeared in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

In the US study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that most American toddlers spend up to fours a day watching TV or using smartphones and tablets beyond doctors' recommendations. Researchers in Canada found similar conclusions in preschoolers, a majority of whom exceed the WHO guidance for screen use.

The findings of the two studies emphasized the concerns of screen time among young children as it has been rising in recent years. They also called for interventions that may help track screen time habits and reduce the excess time spent in front of screens by children.

 

Excessive Screen Habits at a Young Age

The US study involved 3,895 children who were born from 2008 to 2010 and were followed up until they were eight years old. Their mothers were given questionnaires when the children were aged 12, 18, 24, 30, and 36 months.

About 87% of the children aged two to five were found to exceed the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics on limiting daily screen time to one hour. These participants were divided into two groups based on the increases in their daily screen habits from ages one to three.

About 87% of the children aged two to five were found to exceed the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics on limiting daily screen time to one hour / Photo by: MNStudio via Shutterstock

 

According to a report by the Daily Mail, a British daily middle-market newspaper published in London in a tabloid format, nearly 73% in the first group had the lowest average increase (from almost 51 minutes to an hour and 47 minutes a day) while the remaining 27% increased their screen time use from about 37 minutes to about four hours.

The researchers also looked into other factors that may affect screen time usage. For instance, children whose parents did not go to university are more than twice as likely to be in the highest 10% for their use of screened devices.

Such a risk was nearly as high as children of first-time mothers, the Daily Mail added, and twins are also more likely to have this screen time habit. "Our results indicate screen habits begin early," said Edwina Yeung, the corresponding author of the study and an epidemiologist at the NIH. However, she also said added that the participants' screen time fell at the age of seven (down to 77 minutes a day) likely due to kids having started school at that time.

High Screen Time for Preschoolers

Over in the Canada study of preschoolers, the researchers used data on mother-child pairs from the All Our Families study at the University of Calgary. They found that a mother's excessive use of screened devices influences her child's screen time habits, especially for moms who care for their kids at home.

Since this high level of screen usage among Canadian preschoolers is associated with their parent's excessive use of devices, the authors said that it would be difficult for parents to limit their child's screen time without additional support to develop a family use plan.

"This includes promoting opportunities for joint media engagement; deciding when, where, and how often screens are used; and reinforcing the need for sleep, physical activity, and device-free interactions to be prioritized to optimize child development," the study said.

CNN reported that more than 79% of 1,595 children aged 2 and nearly 95% of 1,994 kids aged 3 in the study go over the WHO guidance of screen time use by no more than one hour every day.

In the WHO recommendations, children should not be introduced to screens if they are below 12 months old and instead should engage in interactive floor-based play several times a day. During downtime, reading and telling stories to the child should be done, the UN agency recommended.

Developing Interventions

Experts said hours of looking at screens can have damaging effects on children's intelligence, sleep, mental health, and vision. In fact, a study published earlier this month found that high screen use negatively affects 16% to 56% of certain brain areas in preschoolers such as those responsible for language, literacy, imagination, and executive function.

While screen time may be dedicated to helping a child's intelligence (e.g. watching educational videos or playing mind games), it still yields negative effects. Providing children with screen-based media, instead of engaging them in physical play, may leave their developing brains under-stimulated, according to Canadian broadcaster CTV News. It added that in the Canadian study, reducing screen time would mean cutting down screen usage among family members in solidarity.

Family media plans should include providing opportunities for every member for joint media engagement, deciding the frequency and where they can use screened devices, and prioritize device-free interaction to further drive child development while also increasing the engagement in physical activity.

These are just some of the ways that parents can do to manage their child's screen habits and help reduce the negative effects it has on their development as technology becomes increasingly ingrained in a child's life.

Experts said hours of looking at screens can have damaging effects on children's intelligence, sleep, mental health, and vision / Photo by: Parilov via Shutterstock