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Too much screen time for toddlers linked to worse social and motor skills in kindergarten

(Reuters Health) – Toddlers who spend too much time in front of TVs, tablets and smartphones may not become as proficient at problem-solving, communication and other skills needed in school as their peers who have less of screen time, suggests a new study.

Children in the study had an average of 17 hours of screen time per week by age two and 25 hours per week by age three. This far exceeds the one-hour daily limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to give children ample time for creative play and interactions with caregivers and peers.

“Screen time is most often sedentary or passive behavior, with very few learning opportunities,” said lead study author Sheri Madigan of the University of Calgary and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Canada.

Part of the problem is that toddler’s brains aren’t developed enough to apply the things they learn from two-dimensional screens to what they experience in three-dimensional life, Madigan said via email.

“If they see someone building blocks on the screen, it doesn’t help them build blocks in real life,” Madigan said.

Another reason screen time can slow development is that hours spent in front of televisions and tablets mean that children may miss the opportunity to doodle with pencils or play games that help them learn. learn to kick a ball or take turns.

“These are essential skills in early childhood because mastery of the skills is necessary before further development can occur,” Madigan said. “You have to walk before you can run and you have to know how to hold a pencil before you can write your name. “

Compared to toddlers who spend less screen time, two-year-olds who spend more screen time tend to score lower at age three on developmental screening tests that measure communication. fine and gross motor skills, problem solving and social skills.

The same trend was observed for three-year-olds. The more time they spent in front of a screen, the worse they scored on developmental tests when they turned five.

For the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers asked 2,441 mothers in Canada about how much time their children spent on weekdays and weekends watching TV, movies or videos; play video games; or by using computers, tablets or other devices like smartphones.

Mothers also completed questionnaires on the progress of children with a range of developmental milestones during the study.

The researchers also tested for reverse causation, that is, they wanted to know whether parents choose to put toddlers with developmental problems in front of screens more than toddlers without developmental problems. That didn’t appear to be true, however – suggesting that screen time may have contributed to developmental delays, not that developmental delays could have contributed to kids spending more screen time.

The study was not a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how screen time in early childhood could have a direct impact on developmental outcomes later in childhood.

Yet this adds to a growing body of evidence linking limited screen time to better cognitive, physical and psychological development in early childhood, said Gary Goldfield, a researcher at the University of Ottawa who did not participate in the study.

“The majority of kids of all ages exceed screen time recommendations, so parents need to be more stringent in setting healthy limits,” Goldfield said via email.

“For those going beyond guidelines, parents can lessen some of the negative effects of screen time by making sure it doesn’t interfere with adequate sleep (which it often does in older children and older children. youth), daily physical activity or active play, and lots of enrichment, stimulating and positive face-to-face interaction with parents and guardians, and of course with other children, ”added Goldfield.

When kids spend time in front of screens, it should be high-quality programming designed with development in mind, said Dr. Suzy Tomopoulos of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital in NYU Langone and Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. York.

“Parents can minimize risk if screen time is child-friendly, has educational content, and is watched with the child,” said Tomopoulos, who was not involved in the study, by e-mail. “Parents should also turn off the television when no one is watching it, during meals and an hour before bedtime. “

SOURCE: JAMA Pediatrics, online January 28, 2019.

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