"What too much screen time leads to is a variety of missed opportunities for learning and development," one of the study's authors tells TIME

By Jen Juneau
January 29, 2019 03:00 PM
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Limiting kids’ access to digital devices may have more of a positive effect than was even realized up until now.

According to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, “Excessive screen time has been associated with various negative outcomes, including cognitive delays and poorer academic performance.”

The research, conducted in part by University of Calgary assistant professor of psychology Sheri Madigan, looked at the electronic-device habits of almost 2,500 women and their children, who were aged 2 to 5.

The mothers reported their kids’ computer and television habits throughout the three-year timeframe, as well as answered questions surrounding their development, social relationships and behaviors. Researchers then compared the data from ages 2, 3 and 5 to find patterns.

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On average, the study saw children having two to three hours a day of screen time, which was linked with the aforementioned negative performance outcomes.

Interestingly, researchers did not find a parallel on the flip side — i.e., actually having a developmental issue was not necessarily linked directly to higher amounts of screen time.

“The results show that there is a lasting influence of screen time, especially when children are two to five years old, when their brains are undergoing a period of tremendous development,” Madigan said, according to TIME.

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“What too much screen time leads to is a variety of missed opportunities for learning and development,” she added. “When a child is watching a screen, he or she is missing out on the opportunity for walking, talking and interacting with others.”

Not all screen time is bad, though. In fact, engaging in digital media as a family can encourage “healthy media habits,” Madigan told TIME, explaining, “When parents watch with their children, they can point out interesting things and contribute to language skills and learning.”

As such, the study concludes, “Understanding the directional association between screen time and its correlates, and taking family-based steps to engage with technology in positive ways may be fundamental to ensuring developmental success of children growing up in a digital age.”