It should come as no surprise to you that giving a toddler unrestricted access to an electronic device isn’t a great idea. Still, just about every parent will admit to sometime letting the kids watch TV while they cook dinner, kill time on the iPad at the restaurant and play video games for fun.
But according to a study in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, all those hours of electronic babysitting could be a problem for our youngsters – especially for children under five.
“What we found in this study is that kids who get excessive screen time are experiencing delays in development,” says Sheri Madigan, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, and lead author of the study.
In fact, excessive screen time is believed to a be a contributing factor in the growing problem of school readiness. An estimated one in four Canadian children are starting kindergarten inadequately prepared for learning.
“If kids are in front of screens, there are a lot of missed opportunities for learning,” says Madigan, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in the Determinants of Child Development. “You’re watching a screen, so you’re not learning how to ride a bike, or throw a ball, or print your name, or you’re not interacting with your caregiver, which, when positive, can be really important for helping kids thrive.”
The good news, say the authors, is that children’s brains keep developing after age five and beyond into adulthood, so it’s never too late to make changes.
We can’t get rid of phones and Netflix, but we can manage our kids’ digital consumption. Madigan recommends coming up with a “media plan” that dictates when and where devices can be used in the home: “It’s about how to use them responsibly and how to really foster healthy device habits.”
If your child is having trouble with the basics, you may want to clock how much time they are spending on devices, that could be the problem.