One of the problems of many parents nowadays is their children’s screen time. Persuading kids to take time off from their gadgets often does not end nicely. But here’s another reason to limit your children’s screen time—it is linked to their future development.

In a paper published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that toddlers 2-3 years old who spend a lot of time staring at screens have poorer performance on their developmental screening tests at 3-5 years old.

Critical Stage of Development

The development of children unfolds rapidly in the first 5 years of life, which is a critical period of growth and maturation. The researchers highlighted that too much screen time can negatively affect children’s natural development ability. This can also affect their readiness for school entry.

By spending too much time on screens, children might miss important opportunities to practice their motor, communication, and interpersonal skills. The researchers explained:

“For example, when children are observing screens without an interactive or physical component, they are more sedentary and, therefore, not practicing gross motor skills, such as walking and running, which in turn may delay development in this area. Screens can also disrupt interactions with caregivers by limiting opportunities for verbal and nonverbal social exchanges, which are essential for fostering optimal growth and development.”

Screen Time and Child Development

The researchers gathered data from 2,441 mothers and children in Canada. The mothers were given questionnaires on how much time children spent using electronics on a typical weekday and weekend. They were also asked questions related to the child’s performance on developmental tests at ages 24, 36 and 60 months. The developmental test can assess children’s growth in motor skills, problem-solving and communication, personal social skills.

Results revealed that longer screen time at 24 months was linked to poorer performance on developmental screening tests at 36 months. On the other hand, longer screen time at 36 months was linked with lower scores on developmental screening tests at 60 months.

“Excessive screen time can impinge on children’s ability to develop optimally; it is recommended that pediatricians and health care practitioners guide parents on appropriate amounts of screen exposure and discuss potential consequences of excessive screen use,” the researchers wrote.

Recommended Screen Time Limit

“On average, the children in our study were viewing screens two to three hours per day. This means that the majority of the children in our sample are exceeding the pediatric guidelines of no more than one hour of high-quality programming per day,” said Sheri Madigan, first author of the study from the University of Calgary.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended limit of screen time in children 2-5 years old is just one hour a day. Sheri likened screen time to junk food, “In small doses, it’s OK, but in excess, it has consequences.”

This screen time includes watching television programs, movies, videos, or stories on a VCR or DVD player. As well as using a computer, gaming system, mobile phone, laptop or other screen-based devices.