New research links preschool screen time to behavioural and attention problems

Less screen time, more organized sport can help ADHD, bad behaviour in preschoolers: U of A study

Less screen time, more organized sport can help ADHD, bad behaviour in preschoolers: U of A study

Recently England's chief medical officer urged parents not to allow children to spend more than two hours at a time looking at screens.

The study of almost 3,500 Canadian children aged 3-5 found that those who had over two hours of screen time per day were also five times more likely to display inattention, acting out, and hyperactivity compared with those who spent less than 30 minutes on a screen per day.

Mandhane points out that "the activity needed to have structure", and that general physical activity did not appear to have the same preventative impact. "The more time children spent doing organised sports, the less likely they were to exhibit behavioural problems".

Daily screen time included TV, DVD's, computers, video consoles, smartphones and tablets. "These aren't small numbers", says Mandhane. "Our data suggests that between zero and 30 minutes per day is the optimal amount of screen time".

On average, three-year-old children spent 1.5 hours a day in front of a screen while five-year-olds spent an average of 1.4 hours a day in front of a screen.

The overarching CHILD study, which follows 3,455 children born between 2009 and 2012, asked parents about their children's average daily screen-time exposure at ages 3 and 5, and asked parents to fill out the Child Behavior Checklist, a 99-item questionnaire, when their children were five years old. Involved in the CHILD Cohort study were almost 2,500 kids and parents who reported the daily screen-time of their children at a given age. "The preschool period is an ideal time for education on healthy relationships with screens, and we believe our data shows that you can't start too early".

The research used data from the CHILD Cohort Study, a national birth cohort study collecting a wide range of health, lifestyle, genetic and environmental exposure information from almost 3,500 children and their families from pregnancy to adolescence.

The study also found that children who fell short of the recommended 10-hours-a-day sleep guidelines were at increased risk for behavioural issues.

A girl with a smartphone in Beijing on Feb. 17 2018
A girl with a smartphone in Beijing on Feb. 17 2018

"It was incredibly surprising when they said, 'maximum 30 minutes, '" Ms. Bergstrom, 42, said with a laugh in an interview from her home in St. Albert, northwest of Edmonton. Her son, Colby, now 8, participated in the study.

And the study found that participation in organized sports provided protection from negative effects of too much screen time.

Colby, the youngest of Ms. Bergstrom's three boys, does not have any of the behavioural problems that were the focus of the new analysis.

They also balance their screen time with hectic competitive hockey schedules in the winter and baseball in the summer, said Ms. Bergstrom, a manager of government and industry affairs for the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

Higher levels of screen time were found to have a greater effect on behavioural and attention problems than any other factor, including lack of sleep, parenting stress or socioeconomic factors.

Piush Mandhane, associate professor of pediatrics in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, led the study, which was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Little is known about how the type of media consumed is linked to mental health outcomes, and whether screen content itself is detrimental or is a marker for less activity or social interaction", said the conclusion of the research paper.

"If a child learns that it's automatic and it's not going to turn on then they will go figure out what else to do because they're not going to sit in front of a black screen for too long".