Young children who have more than four hours of screen time a day tend to display pronounced developmental delays in communication and problem-solving, a study has found.
The study, stemming from the Tohoku Medical Megabank Project in Japan, adds to concerns over screen time and its implications for child development.
Screen time, defined as the duration spent on devices such as televisions, mobile phones and tablets, has seen a sharp rise in recent years.
This is largely attributed to the more widespread availability of digital devices and external factors like the Covid-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organisation and the American Academy of Paediatrics, among others, have long recommended limiting screen exposure for children, suggesting no more than an hour a day for those aged between two and five years.
However, contemporary data illustrates that a majority of children surpass these guidelines.
The study, published in the journal Jama Paediatrics, found that out of 7,097 children surveyed, 4.1 per cent engaged in four or more hours of screen time daily.
These children, when compared to their peers, consistently showcased significant developmental delays.
While detrimental impacts on communication and problem-solving were consistent, other areas, such as gross motor skills, appeared unaffected.
Furthermore, while the effects on fine motor and personal and social skills were evident at age two, these seemed to diminish by age four, suggesting potential developmental catch-ups in certain areas.
Compared to prior studies, this research introduces the plausible concept of “reverse causation”, whereby children with existing developmental delays might naturally gravitate towards more screen time.
One crucial differentiation factor is the type of screen content.
Some studies have indicated that while general screen exposure can reduce language skills, content that is educational might have the opposite effect, enhancing linguistic capabilities.
The study strongly emphasises the importance of children engaging in regular physical activity as a beneficial alternative to prolonged screen time.
Moreover, prioritising adequate sleep is highlighted, ensuring not only children's healthy growth but also their overall well-being.