Study links screen usage to developmental delays in toddlers, possibly beyond

by Jan 30, 2019

Photo: Steve Heap
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As a mom, there are any number of things to worry about that can cause developmental delays in children. From genetic defects, illness, injury, disability or chemicals in our environment, many factors play a role in possible developmental delays in children. To a certain extent, those are somewhat out of our control.

But the latest research in this area is of real cause for concern be cause it is so easily avoided and parents can take an active role in prevention.

We are living in a time when toddlers are given screens to keep them busy while parents talk among themselves at restaurants, on the couch in front of the TV and even while they sit in strollers.

Toddlers, screens and developmental delays

According to a new study from JAMA Pediatrics, early and extensive time spent with screens is coming at a cost later in their young lives. The study describes that developmental progress is reduced based on time spent with screens “…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 study went on to state “when children are observing screens without an interactive or physical component, they are more sedentary and, therefore, not practicing gross motor skills, such as walking and running, which in turn may delay development in this area. Screens can also disrupt interactions with caregivers by limiting opportunities for verbal and nonverbal social exchanges, which are essential for fostering optimal growth and development.” Both of these findings should cause great concern among parents – the use of screens causes physical developmental delay, but also reduces interaction between parent and child which in turn may also cause developmental issues.

Implications for school readiness and school success

Not only is screen time a concern for toddlers and young children as noted in the JAMA report, but there is concern that screen time may have consequences into the school years. The JAMA report cites a number of other studies in which connections are made between screen time and school readiness and school succcess in later years.

The JAMA report references a Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science study of 16,000 kindergarteners that indicates that one-quarter of children may not be developmentally ready to enter school. Also mentioned is another Canadian study, where they found that in the past 10 years school curriculums have progressed, but there has not been any improvement in student academic performance. This is the same timeframe in which there has been rapid growth of technology and screen time usage. The developmental delays the study on toddlers brings to light, may just be one indicator for lower performance later in the academic careers of children.

What’s a parent to do?

The JAMA study recommends that parents develop a media usage plan

– that is suitable for the child’s age
– that ensures that screens do not interfere with family-time and inter-personal relationships
– where parents enforce boundaries, curfews and limits on screen time
– where parents balance screen time and non-screen time and offer up plenty of offline activities for the child and family in which to engage.

The role of parental controls and establishing limits early on

We are very concerned about the mental, physical and health issues that have been proven to be caused by too much screen time. Add the very real possibility of developmental delays, and it makes it all the more important for parents to take an active role when it comes to limiting screen time. Kids will fuss and fight when asked to stop using devices. There is no denying screens are addictive.

It is easier to establish routines when kids are as young as possible. Parental controls are useful to help establish curfews for screen time, block out time when screens are off-limits such as homework, mealtime, family time and very importantly – play time! Parental controls aren’t the end-all solution, but they take some of the burden of being the bad guy. Discuss with your child why it is important to strike a balance and how the parental control is simply a tool to help that process.

We can help!

We realize there’s a lot of info out there and some can be overwhelming or confusing.  So we try to make it easy for you. We have resources comparing a number of Parental Control apps that will help you limit screen time, Internet Filtering Hardware to limit screen time and keep out the bad stuff, plus Internet Security Software Suites to protect your family from viruses, malware and more.

If you need personalized help with setting up parental controls, restrictions and more, sign up for a One to One session and we will help you through the process.

We also have free video courses on how to set up Admin accounts on Mac OS and Windows so you can be the boss of your child’s computer (and prevent them from downloading what they aren’t supposed to download).