Home News Children’s Emotional & Behaviour Problems Linked To Mobile Screen Time

Children’s Emotional & Behaviour Problems Linked To Mobile Screen Time

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Young children who spend large amounts of time on mobile
screens are more likely to have problems sleeping and
managing their emotions and behaviour, a new Australian
study has confirmed.

PhD
researcher Sumudu Mallawaarachchi and Dr Sharon Horwood from
Deakin University’s School of Psychology
found that the
more time toddlers and pre-schoolers spend on smartphones
and iPads, the greater risk of negative impacts on their
social, emotional, and cognitive development and sleep
quality and quantity.

Ms Mallawaarachchi said the
results of their recent study reveal the harms caused by
prolonged use of mobile screens is likely to outweigh any
perceived benefits for toddlers and
pre-schoolers.

“Our research reviewed all the relevant
national and international studies looking at developmental
factors and mobile screen use in early childhood,” Ms
Mallawaarachchi said.

“The findings so far indicate
that toddlers and pre-schoolers who use mobile screens more
often and for longer periods of time are more likely to have
problems managing their emotions and behaviour and getting
poorer quality sleep.

“But we also discovered huge
gaps in our knowledge around the long-term impacts of mobile
screen use in young children revealing the need to look more
closely at the impacts of things like types and reasons for
screen use by young children,” Ms Mallawaarachchi
said.

The research team has launched a new research
project which involves a national survey of parents of
toddlers and pre-schoolers and the screen use in their
homes.

Dr Horwood said that given their portability
and web-connectivity, mobile screens may have a completely
different impact on development compared to older screen
technologies such as televisions.

“For example, we
know that at least half of toddlers and pre-schoolers who
use mobile screens use them on their own, so to understand
how to manage screen use in early childhood we need to know
more about how kids are using screens now,” Dr Horwood
said.

“Overall, the negative findings are quite
worrying given the wide use of educational apps that are
available and considered beneficial for young
children.

“We need further research exclusively on the
impacts of mobile screens, instead of combining them with
other types of screen use.

“Until we have better
understanding of the impacts, parents should probably err on
the side of caution with early childhood screen use. Given
how critical early childhood is in terms of the vast amounts
of brain development that occurs, the sooner we can
establish healthy habits and lifestyle behaviours, the less
challenges young children are likely to face as they
develop,” Dr Horwood said.

“This study also raises
questions about what we’re doing in our schools and early
childhood centres here in New Zealand,” says Michael
Vaughan, spokesperson for Safer Technology Aotearoa New
Zealand (STANZ). “Are we doing young children any favours
using iPads and laptops in these settings, particularly as
they are often having extensive screen time at
home?”

Vaughan, who is also a Registered
Psychologist specialising in work with children, added:
“We know from research that children’s brains are
developing at a tremendous rate in their early years. These
are the ‘golden years’ – children benefit hugely from
having a range of experiences and interactions during this
time. France has banned wi-fi in their early childhood
centres and restricted its usage in primary schools. We
really need to consider carefully what is best-practice, so
that our children achieve their full
potential.”

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