No, Screen Time Is Not Good for Your Toddler

Researchers find delays in development of speech, social, fine motor skills
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2023 9:31 AM CDT
These Are the Hazards of Too Much Toddler Screen Time
One-year-olds who spend a lot of time in front of a screen are more likely to suffer developmental delays in later years, researchers say.   (Getty Images/~UserGI15613517)

A new study cautions parents against turning on a phone or tablet to entertain toddlers for extended periods, finding 1-year-olds exposed to above-average screen time go on to suffer developmental delays. Researchers in Japan found 1-year-olds exposed to more than four hours of screen time per day experienced developmental delays in communication and problem-solving skills at ages 2 and 4, and in fine motor and personal and social skills at age 2, though not 4, the New York Times reports. The likelihood of developmental delays went up with a child's screen time, according to the study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, which is based on questionnaires filled out by parents of close to 8,000 children, per CNN.

Researchers noted babies of young, first-time mothers; mothers with lower incomes and education levels; and those suffering from postpartum depression tended to spend more time in front of a screen. Most children were reported to be exposed for less than two hours a day at age 1. But 18% were reported to be exposed for two hours to less than four hours per day. About 4% were reported to be exposed for four or more hours per day. Children in this latter group were 4.78 times more likely than their peers to have underdeveloped communication skills at age 2, two times more likely to have underdeveloped personal and social skills, and 1.74 times more likely to have underdeveloped fine motor skills, per CNN.

It could be that more screen time leaves less time for face-to-face interactions that help teach children "about how facial expressions, words, tone of voice and physical feedback all combine to convey language and meaning," per the Times. "Kids learn how to talk if they're encouraged to talk, and very often, if they're just watching a screen, they're not having an opportunity to practice talking," a professor of pediatrics who wasn't involved in the study adds, per CNN. Tuning in to screens is also a passive, sedentary activity that may rob children of the opportunity to practice fine motor skills, experts say. They suggest favoring face-to-face interactions and giving children books or toys in place of a screen. (The WHO recommends 1-year-olds get no screen time at all.)

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