University of Canterbury (UC) researchers studied the impacts of screen exposure on early childhood development.
Using data from over 6000 children collected from Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest longitudinal study, Growing Up in New Zealand, the researchers assessed children’s screen exposure at 9 months, 2 years, 4 years, 5 years, and 8 years of age.
The UC researchers measured the amount of time children spent on screens at different stages of childhood against language, early literacy and numeracy skills, and peer-related problems while also considering factors such as maternal education and socio-economic status.
“The children who spent more time on screens throughout early childhood – 9 months to 5 years – scored lower on measures of language and educational ability and higher on parent-reported peer problems at ages 5 and 8,” researchers say.
Screen exposure included direct screen time spent watching TV or on a device, and indirect screen time where the child was in a room with the TV on but not actively watching.
The UC researchers also evaluated the impact screen time has on development due to reduced time participating in other activities.
They say children with high levels of screen exposure were less likely to be engaging in more socially and sensory-rich types of childhood activities, such as playgroups, museums, parks, and cultural events.
“Screen time is only one of many factors that determine children’s outcomes but it’s one that is becoming increasingly prevalent. Early childhood is the time where parents have the most influence over children’s habits and is a critical period for setting healthy habits, so if we can reduce screen time in early childhood there can be positive flow-on effects that influence good health throughout their lifespan.”