Study: Too much screen time harmful for children's development

File photo
File photo

By now, most parents have heard that preschool-age children shouldn’t have more than one hour of screen time each day.

Now, a new study looks to see if excessive screen time during preschool years has an impact on a child’s development.

The study looked at 2,441 children and their screen time use from birth to age five.

Dr. Skyler Kalady of Cleveland Clinic Children’s did not take part in the research, but said the results indicate that early exposure does impact development for preschoolers -- and not in a good way.

“Early exposure to excessive screen time at 24 months was predictive of lower developmental outcomes at 36 months; and similarly, increased screen time exposure at 36 months also was related to decreased developmental outcomes at 60 months,” she said. 

Kalady said a developing mind is in a critical phase during the very early years. 

She said children, especially those younger than 5, need to explore their environments and develop motor skills by moving around and being curious, which isn’t happening if they are spending all of their time looking at an electronic device.

Kalady said parents often don’t give themselves enough credit that they are able to teach their children better than a device can.

“All of these little developmental cues, they take so much time to build up, and while a lot of well-meaning caregivers think that perhaps technology might even be able to teach their child better or more effectively, it really seems that is not the case,” she said.

According to Kalady, the early years are critical for children to spend quality face-to-face time with parents and caregivers, as this time together enables children to learn how to interact both verbally and nonverbally.

“Just sit down with your child, or chase them around and let them explore their environment -- even if it’s a little bit exhausting,” she said. “When they are quiet, read them a book or play with ‘old school’ toys like blocks and puzzles -- toys without electronic parts -- this allows children to explore, be curious, and learn the best,” she said. 

Kalady said it’s helpful to set up limits and expectations early, because it’s easier to start off with healthy screen time habits than it is to scale back once you’ve already begun.

But, she said, it’s important to remember that no parent is perfect, and at any point you can always take a step back, do a rese and make a new plan that works best for your family going forward.

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Pediatrics.