Just an hour of screen time a day can lead to unusual sensory problems in toddlers, research warns
Giving a toddler an iPad for just an hour a day could harm his ability to understand the world around him, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Drexel University in Philadelphia found that any amount of screen time from one year of age was associated with a twofold increased risk of unusual sensory behavior, such as the inability to respond to being called their name.
Each additional hour of screen time doubled the risk of later sensory behavior problems compared to children who were not exposed to digital media.
Children with sensory processing disorder, which often goes hand in hand with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), may be extremely sensitive to light and loud noises, or they may seek additional stimulation in other ways.
Their findings add abnormal sensory processing to the laundry list of potentially serious consequences of spending too much time on screens, including language delays, poor cognitive functioning and the development of autism.
Any amount of time spent watching TV and movies from one year of age was associated with a twofold increased risk of unusual sensory behavior, such as an inability to respond to calling their name at 33 months.
Despite the known harmful effects of spending too much time in front of the TV, iPad and other electronic devices, children are locked into screens more than ever.
As of 2014, American children ages two and younger averaged more than three hours of screen time per day, up from one hour and 19 minutes per day in 1997.
Doctors at Drexel University analyzed data from nearly 1,500 children taken between 2011 and 2014. Parents were asked about their children's exposure to TV and movies at ages 12 months, 18 months and 24 months.
About 11 percent of parents said their child didn't watch TV or DVD at 18 months of age.
About 48 percent of them said their children watched media for about half an hour a day, 18 percent said their children watched two hours a day, and eight percent said their children watched three to five hours a day.
At 12 months, any exposure to screens was linked to a 105 percent greater likelihood of exhibiting 'high' sensory behaviors related to the inability to respond appropriately to stimuli in their environment at 33 months, compared to children with no screen time got.
By 18 months, each additional hour of daily screen time increased the likelihood of exhibiting 'high' sensory behaviors related to avoidance of sensations and low registration of external stimuli, such as calling their name, by 23 percent.
After 24 months, each additional hour of screen time was associated with a 20 percent increase in the likelihood of experiencing “high” sensation seeking, sensory sensitivity, and sensation avoidance at 33 months.
Dr. Karen Heffler, lead author and associate professor of Psychiatry at Drexel's College of Medicine, said, “Given this link between high screen time and a growing list of developmental and behavioral problems, it may be helpful for toddlers who exhibit these symptoms to undergo a study.” undergo. period of screen time reduction, along with sensory processing practices delivered by occupational therapists.”
Sensation seeking can look like staring at bright lights, watching ceiling fans spin, spinning in place, chewing or constantly touching objects, and listening to loud noises.
In sensation avoidance, a child actively tries to escape overstimulation in the form of loud noises and bright lights or unpleasant tastes or smells.
The study found no direct cause-and-effect relationship between sensory disturbances and excessive screen time in early life.
Still, the findings suggest that the latter could intensify connections between brain areas responsible for processing sensory stimuli, such as smells and sounds, often seen in people with ASD.
The researchers said: 'To the extent that high screen time may increase the risk of ASD symptoms, the current findings raise the possibility that screen time may do so by affecting sensory development.'
Their research focused specifically on TV and DVD viewing and not on the use of ubiquitous tablets and smartphones. But despite the slight technological differences between a TV screen and that of an iPad, the effects are likely the same, if not very similar.
It was published in the magazine JAMA Pediatrics.