Screen time may be damaging your child more than you think

Toddlers who frequently play on tablets or phones are at a higher risk of problems such as hyperactivity, poor concentration and friendship issues, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said that increased screen time has “multiple risks” for child wellbeing. The new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, examined data on around 700 Finnish children.

It found that the average screen time of a five-year-old was 114 minutes a day. And for 18-month-olds it was an average of 32 minutes. The authors found that high levels of screen time among five-year-olds was linked to a risk of “multiple psychosocial problems”, including attention and concentration difficulties, hyperactivity and impulsivity, emotional internalising and externalising symptoms, and conduct problems. 

But when they delved into the information further, they found that lots of TV time at five years had an increased risk of several psychosocial problems. They said that playing video games had fewer associations, but it was linked to hyperactivity.

Meanwhile, they found that 18-month-olds who had higher than recommended screen time were more likely to have “peer problems” later on. But they said that they did not find a high usage level of electronic devices at 18 months of age to be associated with other problems in psychosocial well-being later on.

The authors concluded: “As our results point out, increased screen time has multiple risks for children’s psychosocial well-being. These risk factors might accumulate in the long term and cause problems in children’s socio-emotional development later on. One possible mechanism accounting for the result might be that the time children spend on e-media reduces the time spent on constructive activities such as interactions with family members, reading and playing.”

The HSE suggests putting strict limits on young children’s screen time and advises that children younger than 18 months old shouldn’t be given any screen time at all. It says that

those aged between two and five should spend no more than one hour a day, and for children over the age of six, screen time should be limited and not interfere with sleep or physical activities.

It also advises that once your child is of the appropriate age to spend time using technology, to be vigilant about the content they consume and avoid relying on using a screen to calm your child down. Children learning to calm themselves is an important part of their development.

You should also choose programmes or apps that are right for your child’s age. Visit the US website Common Sense Media. This site helps parents of children aged two years and over with reviews and tips. There are also many apps advertised as educational. There is very little evidence to back up these claims. Check where educators evaluate apps to see whether they are genuinely helpful or not.

Avoid videos or apps that are very noisy or fast-paced. They are not ideal for younger children. They could be too distracting or stimulating.

Sit with your child when they are playing a game or watching a programme. Talk to them about what they are doing and what they see, and how it relates to the world around them.

Make sure your child is in the same room as you when they are on a device. This means you can watch what they are watching or playing.

Erica Carter
Erica Carter

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