High levels of screen time in infancy is linked to developmental delays between ages of two and four. The corresponding study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics have issued guidelines limiting screen time to one hour per day for children aged 2-5 years old to ensure they engage in adequate physical activity and have adequate sleep for healthy development. A recent study, however, found that only a minority of children meet these guidelines. Further analysis of how screen time affects child development domains could inform future policies and guidelines around screen time for children.
In the current study, researchers recruited 7, 097 child-mother pairs. 51.8% of the children were boys and 48.2% were girls. The researchers recorded their screen time at one year old. Altogether, 48.5% of children had less than one hour of screen time per day, 29.5% had 1-2 hours of screen time, and 17.9% had 2-4 hours of screen time per day. 4.1% had more than four hours of screen time daily.
The researchers also assessed five aspects of developmental delay- communication, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, problem-solving, and personal and social skills- when the children were two and four years old.
By age two, they found that higher levels of screen time were linked to delays in all domains apart from gross motor skills. By age four, however, they found that increased screen time was only linked to developmental delays in communication and problem-solving. The researchers found that the link between screen time and developmental delay was dose-dependent ie. developmental delay increased with higher levels of screen time.
"The differing levels of developmental delays in the domains, and the absence of any detected delay in some of them at each stage of life examined, suggests that the domains should be considered separately in future discussions of the association between screen time and child development," said Dr. Taku Obara, epidemiologist and Assistant professor at Tohoku University, corresponding author of the study, in a press release.
"The rapid proliferation of digital devices, alongside the impact of the COVID pandemic, has markedly increased screen time for children and adolescents, but this study does not simply suggest a recommendation for restricting screen time. This study suggests an association, not causation between screen time and developmental delay,” added Dr. Obara.