A new study associates the use of screens with a worse development of children | Technology

A new study associates the use of screens with a worse development of children | Technology

"Parents can think of the screens as if they were giving junk food to their children: in small doses it is not so bad, but too much has consequences," says psychologist Sheri Madigan. Today, her latest study was published, in which she began working a decade ago, recruiting pregnant women willing to analyze the development of their future babies. In particular, how they would affect the time they spend in front of screens: television, computers, videogames, tablets, mobile phones … "This study shows that, excessively, time in front of the screen can have consequences for the development of children ", summarizes Madigan, researcher at the University of Calgary. In addition, this relationship could have a socioeconomic component.

Those who abuse screens, take longer to perform tasks such as saying a phrase of four words or put accounts on a rope

The study, which followed 2,400 Canadian children, showed that the greater the time spent in front of screens at two and three years, the worse was the performance of these children at three and five years, when they were made a development test . This exam analyzes your progress in five key domains: communication, motor skills (coarse and fine), problem solving and social skills. "To measure communication in a three-year-old child, for example, we ask if a child can form a four-word sentence or identify the most common parts of the body," explains Madigan. And he adds other examples, of the 30 tests carried out: "For motor skills, we observe if a child can get on his leg with lameness or put beads on a string". The differences depending on the use of these devices were modest but significant throughout the three waves of the study, according to the psychologist, who directs the laboratory specialized in studying the determinants of child development of the Canadian university. Among the children studied, the peak of screen use was three years before school, with an average of 25 hours.

The study shows that child development unfolds rapidly in the first five years of life, making it a critical period of growth and maturation. And the mechanism by which these devices weigh down that deployment is simple: "When young children are watching screens, they may miss important opportunities to practice and master interpersonal, motor and communication skills," explains the study. For example, when they are facing the screen without an interactive or physical component they become more sedentary and, therefore, do not practice skills such as walking and running, which in turn delay development in this field. Screens can also interrupt interactions with parents and their environment by limiting opportunities for verbal and nonverbal social exchanges, which are essential to foster optimal growth, according to this work.

Digital devices and screens are now ubiquitous in the lives of children and in recent years several studies have found negative associations with the excessive leisure time devoted to them, explain the authors of this study. that is published in JAMA Pediatrics (from the Association of Physicians of the USA). For example, it was already known that the abuse of the tele it makes speech move more slowly among the little ones. That the screens hurt sleep of minors at a crucial stage. And that even in older children, around the age of ten, also seem to ballast their cognitive development.

"When young children are watching screens, they may miss important opportunities to practice and master interpersonal, motor and communication skills," says the study.

What the Canadian scientists led by Madigan wanted to discover is whether this correlation was causal: if the worst developed children are those who spend more time on the screen or if spending more time this way is what hinders development. "The results of this study support for the first time the directional association between screen time and child development," they conclude in the study. "When a particular child looks at the screens too much, he ends up having a worse development compared to what we expected him to do", adds the researcher.

Four months ago, a study compared the intellectual performance of 4,500 American children between eight and 11 years of age depending on whether they spent more or less than two hours of entertainment on screens. And the greater the use of devices, worse they completed the tests. But the scientists could not firmly assure that the correlation implied that this was the origin: "We can not establish causality in our study," then admitted to EL PAÍS its principal investigator Jeremy Walsh. Now, again consulted on the occasion of this study, Walsh believes that "the findings of this study are important because they provide direction from the point of view of the relationship between screen time and the child's development in the first years of life. " "The results suggest that higher levels of exposure are associated with poorer development, and not vice versa," he summarizes.

Socioeconomic importance

The researchers of the present study controlled the effects according to different variables, such as the sex of the minor or the conditions of the mother. The girls obtained better results in the tests and spent less time with screens. Preschoolers who received more readings, who exercised more, who slept more or who had mothers with lower levels of depression also had better performance. But by controlling the data for all these factors, including family income, the result remained the same: the more screen, the worse the development.

"I think it crosses all socioeconomic strata, because we live in a world saturated with media," says Madigan. However, there is an obvious problem: the poorest children spend more time with these devices, so this relationship would hurt them more. "Children from comparatively lower socio-economic backgrounds spend higher levels of time looking at screens and get lower scores on the development questionnaire, compared to those with a better economic situation," says Madigan.

The abuse of these devices delays the development of speech and harms the sleep of children, an essential element in this period

One of the main limitations of this study, like its precedents, is that no type of distinction is made by apparatus, context or type of content. That is, an hour alone with the tablet watching online videos in a loop account just like an hour watching an interactive dance program with his mother. For Madigan it is probable that when these details are analyzed, much more significant differences appear. In this way, perhaps we could know in detail which are the really harmful habits for the little ones and which are completely innocuous, even if they are done looking at a screen likewise. The US Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the use of all these means because "it can mean that children do not have enough time during the day to play, study, talk or sleep". The Spanish Society of Outpatient Pediatrics and Primary Care defends that "children under two years should not watch television."


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