Preschoolers overwhelmingly get more screen time than WHO recommends: study

A new Canadian study suggests that preschoolers are overwhelmingly getting more screen time than is recommended for children their age, and that their parents’ personal TV habits could be a cause.

The research letter, published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, revealed that of the 1,595 two-year-old children and the 1,994 three-year-old children included in the study, two-year-olds exceeded the recommended screen-time guidelines 79 per cent of the time, while three-year-olds exceeded the guidelines a whopping 95 per cent of the time.

Research into the effects of screen time on children have shown that limiting screen time during certain stages of development is important.

The World Health Organization came up with different guidelines for children depending on their age: according to them, preschoolers should only be getting one hour of screen time per day.

This new research out of the University of Calgary shows that those recommendations are rarely being met.

One of the factors in how much screen-time preschoolers had turned out to be the “maternal screen time” — how many hours their mothers spent interacting with screens through things like TV shows and video games.

The research stated that “mothers self-reported on how their screen time exposure (measured)… on a typical weekday,” in order to cross reference that figure with the reported screen time for their preschoolers.

Mothers who reported a higher screen time for themselves were more likely to have a toddler with a higher screen time.

Although it may seem like a small issue, depending on how much screen time a child is getting, they could see real consequences.

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics earlier this month showed that 16 to 56 per cent of certain areas of the brain in preschoolers were negatively affected by higher screen use. The areas of the brain that showed an impact were ones related to language, literacy, imagination and executive function.

The concern is that when children’s brains are developing, giving them too much access to screen-based media as opposed to engaging them in physical play and interacting with caregivers could leave their brains under-stimulated.

In the conclusions of the new study, it said that reducing screen time for preschoolers might involve the rest of the family reducing their own screen time in solidarity.

“In high screen-viewing families, it may be difficult for parents to implement screen time guidelines without a supportive approach,” the study says. “Accordingly, it will be important to work together with families to devise family media plans that can be effectively implemented. This includes promoting opportunities for joint media engagement; deciding when, where, and how often screens are used; and reinforcing the need for sleep, physical activity, and device-free interactions to be prioritized to optimize child development.”

It was not specified whether “maternal screen time” was a self-reported figure including only stay-at-home mothers, or if it incorporated working parents and stay-at-home fathers as well.

In the limitations of the study, it is acknowledged that there is a lack of information on how maternal screen time was spent (for example, whether a mother was watching TV on her own while a child was napping, or whether both were watching a show together), and that further studies could look into these specifics. 

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