More than four in 10 Vancouver toddlers are spending up to 30 minutes looking at screens in a new study out of UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
And that’s about 30 minutes more screen time than they should be having, medical experts have said.
Coverage of screen time on Globalnews.ca:
In a study titled “Parental Awareness of Screen Time Recommendations for Children Less Than Two Years of Age,” researchers with UBC and the health authority aimed to look at the reasons why parents expose their children to electronic media.
The authors surveyed 242 parents with children under two years old or younger from six Vancouver public health districts, asking them how much time their kids spend in front of screens.
They were also asked for their attitudes about screens to see whether that had any bearing on how much time they spent looking at electronics.
The survey found that 40.5 per cent of parents said their kids spent anywhere between one and 30 minutes looking at screens in a day, while 12.8 per cent said they spent up to an hour.
And there were numerous reasons why they let their children do this.
One was that they needed time to finish chores around the house. Another was that they were dealing with a busy workday.
Still, others said they believed screen time helped their kids develop their speech and language.
Research on the topic has said pretty much the opposite.
Screen time has been associated with “expressive language delays and irregular sleep schedules,” the study noted.
Research has also shown that kids under two years old “learn less from television than from real-life experiences,” it added.
The findings weren’t surprising for Dr. Wendy Hall, a professor at UBC’s School of Nursing.
She identified numerous risks associated with screen time for young children.
One of them is “sleep hygiene” — she noted research showing that screen time interferes with sleep, which is “critical for our children’s proper growth and development, especially young children,” she said.
Hall said she’s also concerned about the addictiveness of screens, “and how they’ve developed the algorithms for some of these activities on screens so they stimulate dopamine (the pleasure centre) in the brain.
“The person keeps going back for more,” she said.
“We can sugarcoat it all we want, but screens are not recommended, and at a young age, it’s not good for them,” said study co-author Reda Wilkes, a public health nurse with Vancouver Coastal Health.
“There’s nothing to support it. Young kids are supposed to be constantly moving and when you put them in front of the TV, that just stops.”
The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) recommends no screen time at all for children under two years old; so does the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The study said health-care providers can help parents identify factors that increase the use of screens, as well as ways to limit their children’s exposure to them.
Such providers can recommend alternatives to screens when parents are busy, or when they want to calm their kids, it added.