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How Does Screen Time Affect Toddlers? New Research Discovers Cause For Concern

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Screen time. It's sort of become the main topic of conversation for parents in a lot of ways, hasn't it? How much screen time is too much, how to allow your kids some semblance of autonomy while making sure they're protected, how to allow screens into your life without them becoming your life. Well, I hate to tell you this, but I'm not about to make things much easier for you. A recent study looked at how screen time affects toddlers, and the results are somewhat troubling.

This study, which was published in the JAMA Pediatrics Journal on Monday, aimed to find out if there was a direct link between lots of screen time and toddler development, particularly when toddlers around the age of 2 were exposed to screens on a regular basis. To determine the link between screens and development, researchers from the University of Calgary tracked nearly 2,500 2-year-olds between 2011 and 2016 via their parents using a questionnaire called Ages and Stages. This questionnaire asked mothers to share how much time their toddler spent in front of a screen (which includes watching television, playing video games, spending time on a tablet, phone, or any other screen) on average and also how they were developing in communication and motor skills by ages two, three, and five years old, as per the BBC.

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Here is what researchers discovered, as Tech Crunch reported:

Greater screen time at 24 months was associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests at 36 months, and similarly, greater screen time at 36 months was associated with lower scores on developmental screening tests at 60 months.

The issue at hand appears to be the amount of screen time rather than the toxicity of screen time in general. Study lead author and child development researcher Professor Sheri Madigan of the University of Calgary explained to CNN:

Higher screen time viewing at 2 and 3 years of age was associated with children's delays in meeting developmental milestones at 3 and 5 years of age, respectively. This study shows that, when used in excess, screen time can have consequences for children's development. Parents can think of screens like they do giving junk food to their kids: In small doses, it's OK, but in excess, it has consequences.
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The milestones Madigan referred to are things like stacking blocks, communication, and other fine motor skills that appeared to be delayed by lots of screen time. The average toddler in this study was in front of screens for 17 hours per week at 2 and then 25 hours per week by the age of 3. This is significantly higher than the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommended allotment for screen time of approximately one hour per day, preferably watching something educational.

This study points to a correlation between more screen time and a delay in development, but this does not necessarily prove causation. That means that more research is likely needed to determine if there really is a significant link between the a lot of screen time and lower scores on developmental screenings.

As Madigan noted, it's important to remember balance when it comes to screens and kids. It is perhaps unrealistic to think that children will never come into contact with screens, and in smaller doses she believes it's fine. So maybe the best a parent can do is to just take every day as it comes and try to keep the screens to a minimum.

After all, we're all trying our best here, aren't we?