The study reviewed the viewing habits of children between the ages of two and five over the period of five years.
In an e-mail, Dr. Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in Britain, said the latest study shows only "a weak association between screen time and developmental outcomes". "We are getting at these lasting effects", she added of the study.
Dr. Suzanne Tough, PhD, a co-author on this study - who is a professor in the CSM's departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences, and a member of the Owerko Centre at ACHRI, and the O'Brien Institute for Public Health - understands why parents are putting their children in front of screens.
Girls were more likely to score higher on developmental tests (β 0.23, 95% CI 0.18-0.27) and tended to have less screen time (β -0.06, 95% CI -0.11 to -0.02). "It is recommended that paediatricians and healthcare practitioners guide parents on appropriate amounts of screen exposure and discuss potential consequences of excessive screen use".
Not all screen time is detrimental, she says, and her study did not delve into the quality of programming the children were watching. Data was collected at least once for each child.
"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.
"It looks at communication skills, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, and the social and emotional skills".
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Overall, mothers reported their children spent a mean 2.4 hours a day on screens at age 24 months, 3.6 hours a day at 36 months, and 1.6 hours a day at 60 months, they reported.
The United States National Library of Medicine found that most children of all ages spend between five and seven hours a day in front of a screen.
The scientists added: "When young children are observing screens, they may be missing important opportunities to practice and master interpersonal, motor and communication skills". They recommend implementing a family media plan. While some argue screen time is harmful for children's mental and physical health, others warn of moral panic, and say evidence on the issue is of poor quality and that there is no clear sign of harm.
Madigan was supported by the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation and the Canada Research Chairs program.
In fact, excessive screen time is believed to a be a contributing factor in the growing problem of school readiness-an estimated one in four Canadian children are starting kindergarten inadequately prepared for learning. "So TV can lead to missed opportunities, for learning, for development, interactions with caregivers, all these things that actually help kids thrive".
As noted in The Art of Screen Time, it's best to enjoy screens, not too much and mostly with others. "We would, in the light of this paper, reiterate our advice that families spend time interacting as a family, that screens are not allowed to interfere with sleep, and that screen-based interaction is no substitute for in-person contact", he said.