Study | Screens Stunt Toddler Development


Toddler watching an iPad. | Image by Shutterstock

A new study concluded what many people have already suspected: too much screen time is detrimental to a child’s development.

With mobile phones, televisions, and tablets increasingly ubiquitous across virtually all environments in the United States, limiting child screen exposure has become more challenging for parents.

Research published on December 12 in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found that excessive screen exposure is associated with stunted emotional development in kids aged 3 to 5 years.

According to the study, children that were calmed down or soothed by being given access to devices like iPads ended up with weaker decision-making abilities and lower patience after three- and six-month testing periods.

While apps and videos can often effectively distract children in the immediate moment, over time, the habit can inhibit “emotion-regulation skills” in “emotionally reactive children,” the study claimed.

According to Jenny Radesky, the study’s lead researcher and a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the University of Michigan Medical School, providing a mobile game or TV show to a crying or screaming child risks reinforcing unwanted behavior with a “pleasurable reward.”

“Since smartphones and tablets came into our homes, parents have wondered how much to use them as a behavioral tool, and this study suggests that they’re probably not best used as in-the-moment emotion regulators,” she said, speaking with The Washington Times.

For parents who insist on using devices to calm their children, Radesky recommended using educational videos.

“In cases like this, I recommend using videos that teach calming skills, like Elmo’s ‘belly breathe’ video, when handing a device to the child,” she explained. Parents may also want to consider “working with a therapist or early educator to learn a few other tools for helping prevent and respond to big emotional reactions,” said Radesky.

Radesky advised against videos that include “high-pleasure distraction,” like unboxing videos on YouTube, where young children unpack a brand-new toy.

For some kids, these videos can be mesmerizing. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the biggest stars of these videos, often as young as 10 years old, can earn millions of dollars a year.

The latest findings are significant given the challenges children faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many children exhibited weight gain, depression, and diminished academic performance during extended lockdown periods.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, childhood obesity was skyrocketing before the pandemic, especially in Texas, which ranked 10th in the United States for childhood obesity, with 20.7% of children ages 10-17 classified as obese in 2020-2021, nearly a 4% bump over the national rate of 17% for the same period.

Still, the other outcomes from early childhood screentime seem reason enough for parents to take it seriously.

While the study was conducted before the pandemic, experts claimed the adverse effects of screen time have likely only worsened in recent years. Even before COVID-19, parents struggled to keep their children physically active amid endless video game choices. Lockdowns, however, only deepened this challenge, affecting childhood development and exacerbating the childhood obesity crisis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under two should avoid screen time altogether, while kids ages two through five should limit exposure to a maximum of one hour per day.

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2 months ago

In China the government control children usage of TV, etc. Is available only for 2 hours a day.