While screen time amounts for children have been debated for decades, one study finds that longer screen time for children ages 2-5 could lead to learning delays.
Girls were more likely to score higher on developmental tests (β 0.23, 95% CI 0.18-0.27) and tended to have less screen time (β -0.06, 95% CI -0.11 to -0.02).
But the results have been contested by others in the field who say the study did not take into account what the children were using the screens for, and that the influence of screens had a smaller effect than other factors such as family income, the child's sleep and whether they were read to.
When young children are observing screens, they may be missing important opportunities to practice and master interpersonal, motor, and communication skills. They analyzed how much screen time the children received, and how they fared on developmental screening tests, at ages two, three and five.
In the study, 2-year-olds spent about 17 hours a week in front of a screen.
When followed across three time points, researchers found the children with higher levels of screen time were not meeting their developmental milestones as expected.
Share on PinterestChildren who have too much screen time at age 2 can have learning delays by age 3, researchers say.
To determine that, gold-standard experimental designs that randomly assign children to receive or not receive screen time, and then see how they develop, are needed.
In an e-mail, Dr. Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in Britain, said the latest study shows only "a weak association between screen time and developmental outcomes".
Meanwhile the Canadian Pediatrics Society recommends that children between the age of two and five spend no more than one hour a day in front of a screen. As a mother of four, the youngest of which are two-year-old twins, she tries to keep their screen time to a minimum: four hours total on weekends, and on most weekdays, none at all.
At two years, three years, and five years, mothers were asked to record how much time their child spent using screens, including time in front of the TV, computer or other devices.
The team explains that there are possibly two ways in which the screen time could affect the children. She is research chair of child development with the University of Calgary's department of psychology, in Canada.
Our study shows an association between screen time and child development.
Madigan encourages parents and guardians to set a good example and attempt to engage their children while they're watching the devices.
Part of the problem is that toddlers' brains aren't developed enough to apply things they learn from two-dimensional screens to what they experience in three-dimensional life, Madigan said by email.
The group found that negative effects linked to screen time are mostly a result of choosing screen time over activities such as sleeping, eating well, exercising, and socializing, rather than a direct negative effect. Parents should also choose high-quality shows and watch them with their children.