Negative Impact of Gadgets for Children's Social and Motoric Ability

Children who spend too much time watching television, using tablets and smart phones may not be more skilled at solving problems, communicating and other skills than children who have little time to do these things.

As reported by Reuters, the children in this study spent an average of 17 hours a week watching when they were two years old, and 25 hours a week when they were three years old.

These numbers far exceed the recommended limit by the American Pediatric Academy to provide sufficient time for children to play creative things and interact with caregivers and peers.

"Watch activities are usually done by sitting or passively, with very few learning opportunities," said lead study author Sheri Madigan of the University of Calgary and the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute in Canada.

The problem is that children's brains won't develop enough to apply the things they learn from two-dimensional screen into the three-dimensional real life they experience, Madigan said.

"If they see someone building blocks on the screen, that doesn't help them to build blocks in real life," Madigan added.

Loss of playing opportunities

Another reason why time in front of the screen can slow down children development is because the hours that go by when they watch eliminate their chance to write with crayons or do games that help them learn how to kick a ball or something.

"This is a critical opportunity in early childhood, because mastery of skills is needed before further development occurs," Madigan said.

"You have to be able to walk before running, and you have to know how to hold the crayon before you can write your name."

Compared to children who have less time in front of the screen, 2-year-olds with excessive screen time tend to have lower scores at 3 years of age when undergoing developmental tests to measure communication, soft and rough motoric skills, problem solving and also social skills.

The same pattern is seen in children aged 3 years. The more they spend in front of the screen, the worse their scores on developmental tests when they reach the age of 5 years.

For the study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers conducted a survey of 2,441 mothers in Canada about how much time their children spent on weekdays and weekends to watch television, movies or videos, play video games or use computers, tablets and other electronic devices such as smart phones.

Mothers also filled out questionnaires about the progress of children with various developmental milestones during the study period.

The researchers also tested the reverse cause, they wanted to know whether parents chose to give more time in front of the screen to toddlers with growth problems, compared to toddlers without problems developing.

But it doesn't seem right that the time spent in front of the screen contributes to the delay in growth and not that delays may contribute to children who get more time playing with the device.

However, this adds to the evidence linking time limitations to using electronic devices with better cognitive, physical and psychological development in early childhood, said Gary Goldfield, a researcher from the University of Ottawa who was not involved in the study.

"The majority of children of all ages use the device at times that exceed recommendations, so parents must be more stringent in setting healthy limits," Goldfield said via email.

"For those who use the device to exceed the guideline, parents can reduce some negative effects by ensuring that it does not interfere with adequate sleep time (which often occurs in children and adolescents), daily physical activity or active play, and many "enriching, stimulating and interacting face-to-face with parents or caregivers and other children," Goldfield added.

When children get time to watch, they have to get high-quality programs designed to develop their minds, said Dr. Suzy Tomopoulos from Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at New York Langone University and Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City.

"Parents can minimize the risk if the screen time is in accordance with the child, have educational content, and be seen together with the child," said Tomopoulos, who was not involved in the study via email.

"Parents also have to turn off the television when no one is watching, during meal times and one hour before going to bed."

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