Excessive Exposure to Screens in Children

Excess exposure to screens during childhood can have negative consequences on development. It can even affect learning and relationships.
Excessive Exposure to Screens in Children

Last update: 31 December, 2020

There are scientific studies that show that excessive exposure to screens in children is associated with poorer cognitive and social-emotional development. When we talk about screens, we mean smartphones, tablets, television, computers, and so on.

Often, parents don’t know the consequences that excess screen time has on their little ones. For this article, in particular, we’ll draw on the recent study by Madigan, S., Browne, D., Racine, N., Mori, C., and Tough, S. (2019), published in JAMA Pediatrics, from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The research, which is called Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test, exposes several consequences that kids can suffer when they use the aforementioned devices excessively.

Scientific study of excessive exposure to screens in children

We’re going to break down the contents of the study and its implications in sections. That way, it’ll be easier to read and understand.

A child playing on a tablet.

The study

This study closely followed the development of 2,400 Canadian children. It demonstrated, experimentally, that the longer the child spent in front of the screens at 2 and 3 years of age, the worse their performance at 4 and 5 years.

The research explored the child’s progress in 5 domains:

  • Communication
  • Gross motor skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Problem resolution
  • Social skills

For example, to assess communicative mastery, they asked the child if they could form four-word sentences or identify common parts of the body.

Meanwhile, for motor skills, they were asked to stand on their feet or put beads on a string. Then, they determined that the more time these children spent in front of the screens, the worse they performed in these exercises.

Scientists state that, during the first 5 years of life, the brain is very sensitive to stimuli. This is known as the critical period. In fact, it’s very important for growth and maturation.

Consequences of excess exposure to screens in children

Everything seems to show that excess exposure to screens in children causes them to miss important opportunities. In general, it can interfere with the following:

  • Social and communicative development (interacting with other people)
  • Motor skills, promoting a sedentary lifestyle
  • Development of close ties with people
  • Learning and emotional regulation

When children watch screens, they may lose the ability to master interpersonal, motor, and communication skills, as stated in the aforementioned study.

Therefore, this leads us to a very serious conclusion: excessive exposure to screens affects children’s development at all levels. That is, it can make them less intelligent, less skillful and less competent than children who use them rationally and responsibly.

Two kids staring at smartphones.

Socioeconomic and gender variables

According to the study, girls tend to spend less time in front of screens and tend to get better scores than boys, in the 5 domains we mentioned.

On the other hand, the drastic decline in group games, which until recently were the main source of reinforcement and social-emotional learning in children, is worrying. Too much screen time is eliminating individual and group play for kids.

In addition, another significant finding of the study is that preschool children who received more readings, exercised more, slept more or had parents with lower levels of depression performed much better.

Also, it showed that people in the lowest socioeconomic level used the most screen time. Consequently, kids in these populations were the most affected.

Children suffer consequences from excessive exposure to screens

Although researchers have shown scientific evidence in the last decade that there are harmful consequences of excessive exposure to screens in children, this study has shown important results. For the first time, a large study, with 2400 subjects, shows a direct relationship between screens and worse development.

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  • Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: a systematic literature review. Sleep medicine reviews21, 50-58.
  • Madigan, S., Browne, D., Racine, N., Mori, C., & Tough, S. (2019). Association between screen time and children’s performance on a developmental screening test. JAMA pediatrics173(3), 244-250.
  • Tandon, P. S., Zhou, C., Sallis, J. F., Cain, K. L., Frank, L. D., & Saelens, B. E. (2012). Home environment relationships with children’s physical activity, sedentary time, and screen time by socioeconomic status. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity9(1), 88.