Screen time among the very young is increasing with the availability of screens generally. Increased screen time in infants is associated with changes in children’s brains, lower brain development, expressive speech delays, attention spans, and brain processing speed.
In researching and gathering articles about he effects of screen time on young children I found the following that I believe to be relevant. These are studies and articles from reliable sources, and they shed light on the effect screen time has on this youngest age group. I will summarize the articles and provide links to the original sources so that anyone can review them for themselves.
The Titles and sources for the four articles below are summarized here:
- Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children – Published by the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Too much screen time changes children’s brains from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
- MRIs show screen time linked to lower brain development in preschoolers – From an article on KSL.com summarizing a study published in the Journal of the American medical Association
- Explosive growth in screen use by toddlers – From an article on CNN summarizing a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics
Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children
This study used 894 infants between 6 months and 2 years of age between 2011 and 2015. According to questions answered by parents by their 18 month checkup 20% of the infants had average daily handheld device usage of 28 minutes. The American Academy of Pediatrics that published this study recommends NO screen time for infants under 18 months old except for video chat sessions.
The basic ideas presented in the study are that some children learn to use electronic devices before they even learn to talk because handheld devices are prevalent everywhere these days. They theorize that the use of tablets and smartphones among young children is quite common.
They cited research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting suggested that these children may be at higher risk for speech delays. Research found that the more handheld screen time a child’s parents reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech (being able to thoughts into words and sentences in a way that makes sense and is grammatically correct). For each 30-minute increase in handheld daily screen time the researchers found a 49% increased risk for expressive speech delay. There does not appear to be any relationship between handheld screen time and other communications delays, such as social interactions, body language, or gestures.
Too much screen time changes children’s brains, study from Cincinnati Children’s finds
This study put 47 healthy Cincinnati area children between 3 and 5 years old through magnetic resonance imaging of their brains as well as cognitive testing. While the study did not learn how screen time affects the brain, it did show that skills such as brain processing speed were affected. It is not clear how the changes affect a child’s development. A Canadian study published in April found that screen time can affect attention spans in preschoolers. A March study found that mobile phone use can delay expressive language in 18-month-olds. Another JAMA Pediatrics study in April found that screen time can affect how a child performs on developmental testing.
“These findings highlight the need to understand effects of screen time on the brain, particularly during stages of dynamic brain development in early childhood, so that providers, policymakers and parents can set healthy limits”, said Dr. John Hutton
The Cincinnati Children’s study assessed screen time using the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The academy suggests, for example, that children younger than 18 months should avoid all screen media other than video chatting. Parents should monitor digital media and watch it with their children.
For children between 2 to 5, the AAP recommends limiting screen time to an hour a day. Parents should designate media-free times, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
Higher scores on the screening tool were significantly associated with lower expressive language, the ability to rapidly name objects or processing speed and early reading skills, the study found.
In addition, higher scores also were associated with lower brain white matter integrity, which affects organization, and myelination – the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow impulses to move more quickly, in tracts involving language executive function and other literacy skills.
MRIs show screen time linked to lower brain development in preschoolers
This article references this study published in the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).
The study used brain scans from children ages 3 to5 years old and showed that those that use screens more than one hour per day without parental involvement had lower levels of development in the brains white matter. White matter is a key area in the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills. The brain develops most rapidly in the first 5 years of life and form the strong connections that last a lifetime according to Dr. John Hutton.
“Studies have shown excessive TV viewing is linked to the inability of children to pay attention and think clearly, while increasing poor eating habits and behavioral problems. Associations have also been shown between excessive screen time and language delay, poor sleep, impaired executive function, and a decrease in parent-child engagement.” According to the article.
The study goes into a deeper explanation of the difference between white matter and grey matter and the importance and different functions of each. Again, cognitive tests found fewer skills in those with increased screen time exposure.
Explosive growth in screen use by toddlers, studies say
Use of screen time explodes between 12 months and three years in the United States, and most Canadian preschoolers between the ages of two and three are not meeting World Health Organization recommendations for appropriate use of television, computers and other screens, according to two new studies published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
Nearly 4,000 upstate New York mothers were asked about the level of screen use by their children at 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 months of age. Those answers were then compared to the results of similar questions when the children were 7 and 8 years old. Researchers showed that dailyuse of television, computers and mobile devices by children increased three-fold from age 12 months to three years, from an average of 53 minutes at 12 months to more than 150 minutes.
Children of first-time mothers and children who were in home-based child care logged the highest amount of screen time by elementary school, the study found.
“This finding suggests that interventions to reduce screen time could have a better chance of success if introduced early,” Yeung continued.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says no baby under 18 months should be exposed to a screen except for face-to-face family interactions. Children between 18 months and 5 years of age should only be exposed to one hour a day, preferably with parents or caregivers who interact with them about the content on the screen.
The AAP has an interactive tool to create a personalized media use plan for the family.
More than 79% of children age 2, and nearly 95% of children age 3 in Canada were exceeding the WHO guidance of no more than one hour of high-quality programming daily.
The study used data on mother-child pairs from the All Our Families study at the University of Calgary. It found that a child’s overuse of screens was consistently associated with the mother’s excessive screen use, especially for mothers who cared for their child at home.
That association may make it difficult for parents to limit a child’s engagement with screens without additional support to devise a family use plan, the study authors said.
“This includes promoting opportunities for joint media engagement; deciding when, where, and how often screens are used; and reinforcing the need for sleep, physical activity, and device-free interactions to be prioritized to optimize child development,” the study said.
Children between ages 1 and 4 should not be in front of screens for more than a hour a dayand “less is better,” the WHO said. Screen time should come with parental engagement. Instead, children of this age should spend at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day,and “more is better.” Children of this age should also get between 10 to 14 hours of quality sleep a night.
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