Study shows rapid rise in early screen time

Matt Woodley

24/07/2019 3:44:35 PM

The trend has prompted calls for health professionals to warn parents about what’s been described as a ‘sponge on development’.

toddler watching screen
National guidelines recommend zero screen time before the age of two.

The University of Queensland (UQ) research found some young children are averaging 50 minutes per day, whereas national guidelines recommend zero screen time before the age of two.
Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Child and Young Person’s Health network, Dr James Best, told newsGP while screen time can be a tempting and convenient way for placating children, it can be detrimental in ‘a whole range of ways’.
‘It is a very easy way to calm a child, but it’s not the right way,’ he said.
‘The early childhood years are critical to our social and cognitive development, and the detriment of screen time to this development is well established.’
While previous research has linked too much early screen time with a higher risk of myopia, it is the impact on social skills that Dr Best believes is of particular concern.
‘To me, it’s more the fact that they’re not interacting as much with people that they need to interact with, such as their primary carer,’ he said.
‘It’s all about having a secure attachment, learning social skills, and speech and motor skills. Basically, across the board, screen time is a sponge on development.
‘GPs should make sure that their patients who are parents of small children understand its importance, and it would be preferable if they could ask the question, “how much screen time does your child have?” and guide parents in the right direction.’
According to the study, screen time quickly increases with age before plateauing around three years, at an average of 94 minutes per weekday. Screen time only fell into line with national guidelines when children moved into childcare and school, but weekends continued to spike well above the guidelines. 
Lead author Associate Professor Leigh Tooth said her team was surprised to see the rapid increase in screen time from the first month of infancy, with children spending almost one hour per day before they reach 12 months of age.
‘We need to let people know that young children should not be in front of a screen for long periods,’ she said.
‘It’s very easy to use screen time with children because there are so many child-friendly apps and games developed for young children and parents … [but] it is these early years where the most negative impact on health and development can occur.’
The study found mothers whose children exceeded the screen time guidelines experienced factors like financial stress, had high amounts of leisure time or allowed electronic devices in the bedroom.
‘Parents need to be made aware of the national guidelines in their antenatal visits or during a follow-up appointment with their GP,’ she said.
‘The guidelines are there for a reason, and that is to protect your baby’s health and development.’

development infant screen time

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