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Higher levels of screen time were linked with poorer developmental outcomes in children, a Canadian retrospective longitudinal study found.

In a sample of over 2,000 mother-child pairs, higher levels of screen time for children at age 2 was significantly associated with lower scores on developmental tests at age 3, and higher screen time at age 3 was linked with lower scores on these tests at age 5, reported Sheri Madigan, PhD, of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and colleagues.

However, the association was not bidirectional and lower scores on developmental screening tests were not correlated to higher amounts of screen time, they wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.

“One of the primary concerns around parents these days is about screen time and we wanted to find out more about its importance, especially in early childhood years when their brains are developing so rapidly and presumably the impact of screens can be considerable,” Madigan told MedPage Today.

Jenny Radesky, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, was not a part of this study, but was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement “Media and Young Minds.” The policy statement recommends no more than 1 hour of screen time per day for children from the ages of 2 to 5.

Radesky said excessive screen time can “displace” other activities, like sleep, social activities, or motor skills, which all have effects on child development. Kids may also experience an overwhelming cognitive load while spending time on screens, which can cause their executive functioning to decrease after they consume media, she said.

“When you are trying to process information coming at you from screen media, it may be too advanced for you,” Radesky told MedPage Today. “When you have a heavier cognitive or emotional load from the media content, kids may be a little more disorganized in their thinking immediately after.”