The longer toddlers play on tablets, phones, or game consoles, the more likely they are to develop behavioral issues when they get into a classroom setting, a study by Finnish researchers says.
Scientists say preschoolers who frequently play with tablets or other electronic media have a greater chance of being hyperactive. A short attention span and an inability to concentrate are also more common, and the e-toddlers will have difficulty relating to other children when they’re old enough to go to school.
The study, published Thursday in the journal BMJ Open, looked at some 700 Finnish children and examined data on their reported screen use between 18 months and five years of age. The psychologists from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare concluded that the more time spent with screens, the more problems developed.
“As our results point out, increased screen time has multiple risks for children’s psychosocial well-being,” the authors wrote. “These risk factors might accumulate in the long term and cause problems in children’s socio-emotional development later on.”
The researchers found 95% of pre-school children spent more than an hour on a screen every day. Five-year-olds in the study spent an average of 114 minutes a day – almost twice the limit recommended by the World Health Organization.
The authors reported multiple psychosocial problems, including attention and concentration difficulties, hyperactivity and impulsivity, emotional internalizing and externalizing symptoms, and conduct problems in five-year-olds with higher screen time. They also reported that lots of time spent watching television increased the risk of several psychosocial problems, while playing video games was linked to hyperactivity.
“One possible mechanism accounting for the result might be that the time children spend on e-media reduces the time spent on constructive activities such as interactions with family members, reading, and playing,” the authors said.
They found 18-month-olds were on screens for an average of 32 minutes daily. The WHO recommends no screen time for those under two, and says the less the better for those aged between two and four.
The researchers said those youngsters whose parents didn’t observe the guidance were more likely to have issues relating to other children in a classroom setting.
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