Excessive screen exposure can negatively affect child development, and clinicians should direct parents on appropriate lengths and consequences associated with increased screen time, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

A team of Canadian researchers conducted a longitudinal cohort study to determine the association between screen time and child development in a group of mothers and children. The study was conducted using a 3-wave, cross-lagged panel model from the All Our Families study. A total of 2441 mothers and children (47.9% boys) were included in the analysis, and child data were accessed at ages 24, 36, and 60 months. The primary outcomes were screen-time behavior measured in total hours per week and developmental outcomes for children measured by maternal report via the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition.

Children aged 24, 36, and 60 months watched nearly 17, 25, and 11 hours per week of television, respectively. For children aged 24 and 36 months, there was a significant association between higher levels of screen exposure and poorer performance on developmental screening tests at 36 months (β, -0.08) and 60 months (β, -0.06).

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“To our knowledge, the present study is the first to provide evidence of a directional association between screen time and poor performance on development screening tests among very young children,” the authors noted. “As technology use is entrenched in the modern-day lives of individuals, understanding the directional association between screen time and its correlates, and taking family-based steps to engage with technology in positive ways, may be fundamental to ensuring developmental success of children growing up in a digital age.”

Reference

Madigan S, Browne D, Racine N, Mori C, Tough S. Association between screen time and children’s performance on a developmental screening test [published online January 28, 2019]. JAMA Pediatr. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056