While there is not a consensus on the effect of screen time for older children, a new study out of Japan seems to indicate children who use electronic devices at age 1 are more likely to experience developmental delays later in childhood.
The study published by Tohoku University in the journal JAMA Pediatrics looked at the communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and personal and social skills of children ages 2-4. The study began when the children were age 1, and parents were questioned on the children's use of devices such as televisions, tablets and smartphones.
The children were then split into four different groups: Those who used devices for less than one hour (48.5% of subjects), from 1-2 hours (29.5%), from 2-4 hours (17.9%), and 4 hours or more (4.1%).
The data found that when the children reached age 2, children who used screens more often had delays in their communication, fine motor, problem-solving and personal and social skills. When those children reached age 4, they continued to have delays in communication and problem-solving skills.
"The differing levels of developmental delays in the domains, and the absence of any detected delay in some of them at each stage of life examined, suggests that the domains should be considered separately in future discussions of the association between screen time and child development," says Tohoku University epidemiologist Taku Obara.
Obara noted the proliferation of devices following the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This study suggests an association, not causation between screen time and developmental delay" says Obara. "We use the term 'delay' in accordance with previous research, but it is debatable whether this difference in development is really a 'delay' or not. We would like to gain deeper insight in future studies by examining the effects of different types of screen exposure."
Earlier this year, researchers from the Ohio State University said screen time was not harmful to preschoolers' academic skills.
"There’s been a lot of societal concern about the supposed harmful effects of screen time for young children, and it has really scared parents," said Rebecca Dore, lead author of the OSU study. "These results suggest that we should stop demonizing screen media use and find better ways to support families and the education and development of children living in poverty."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children have limited screen time. The organization says higher amounts of screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems and social problems.
The AAP recommends that children ages 2-5 have no more than an hour a day of screen time. For children under age 2, the AAP said those children "don’t learn from screens as well as they do from live interactions."
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