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Excessive cell phone use (screens) in children

Excessive cell phone use (screens) in children

There are scientific studies that conclude that excess exposure to screens in children is associated with worse cognitive and socio-emotional development. When we refer to screens, we refer to cell phones, tablets, television, computers, etc.

On many occasions, parents are not aware of the repercussions that excessive use of these devices can have on their children. For this article, in particular, we will rely on the recent study by Madigan, S., Browne, D., Racine, N., Mori, C., & Tough, S. (2019), published in JAMA Pediatrics, of the Association of American Pediatricians.

The research, which was titled Association between screen time and children's performance in a developmental screening test, exposes several consequences that minors can suffer when they excessively use the aforementioned devices.

Scientific study of excess exposure to screens in children

We are going to break down the content of the study and its implications into sections, to make it easier to read and understand.

"Recent studies warn about the risks that children may suffer due to excessive exposure to screens or mobile devices."

The study

This study closely followed the development of 2,400 Canadian children and showed, experimentally, that the more time the child spent in front of screens at ages 2 and 3, the worse their performance at ages 4 and 5. years.

The research explored the child's progress in 5 domains, mentioned below:

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

For example, to assess communicative proficiency, the child was asked if he or she could form four-word sentences or identify common body parts.

Meanwhile, for motor skills they were asked to stand on one leg or put beads on a string. It was then determined that the more time these children spent in front of screens, the worse their results were in these exercises.

Scientists state that, during the first 5 years of life, the person's brain is very sensitive to stimuli. This is known as the critical period, which is very important for the growth and maturation of the individual.

Consequences of excess exposure to screens in children

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

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

When children are looking at screens they may lose the ability to master interpersonal, motor and communication skills, as cited verbatim in the aforementioned study.

This allows us to conclude something quite serious: excess exposure to screens in children affects their development at all levels. That is, it can make them less intelligent, less skilled and less competent than those children who make rational and responsible use of them.

Consequences of excess exposure to screens in children

Socio-economic and gender variables

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

On the other hand, the drastic decline in group games is worrying, which until recent years were the main source of reinforcement and social-emotional learning in children. Excess exposure to screens is banishing individual and group play in the little ones.

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

Also, it was observed that people of lower socio-economic level were those who most promoted excess exposure to screens in children. Consequently, the minors of these populations were the most affected.

Children suffer consequences from exposure to screens

Although in the last decade many researchers have demonstrated with scientific evidence the harmful consequences of excessive exposure to screens in children, this study has shown important results. For the first time, a large study, with 2,400 subjects, demonstrates a direct relationship between screens and poorer development.

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