Toddlers who frequently play on tablets or phones are at a higher risk of problems such as hyperactivity, poor concentration and friendship issues, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said that increased screen time has “multiple risks” for child wellbeing.
The new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, examined data on around 700 Finnish children.
Parents reported how much time their child spent using electronic media at 18 months and five years of age. They found that 95% of pre-school children spent more than an hour on a screen every day.
The World Health Organisation says that screen time is not recommended for children under two.
Those aged two to four should not engage in more than an hour of screen time each day, and “less is better”, the guidance states.
However, many families will have found that screens have been used much more by children during the pandemic.
The Finnish study found that the average screen time of a five-year-old was 114 minutes a day. And for 18-month-olds it was an average of 32 minutes.
The authors found that high levels of screen time among five-year-olds was linked to a risk of “multiple psychosocial problems”, including attention and concentration difficulties, hyperactivity and impulsivity, emotional internalising and externalising symptoms, and conduct problems.
But when they delved into the information further, they found that lots of TV time at five years had an increased risk of several psychosocial problems.
They said that playing video games had fewer associations, but it was linked to hyperactivity.
Meanwhile, they found that 18-month-olds who had higher than recommended screen time were more likely to have “peer problems” later on.
But they said that they did not find a high usage level of electronic devices at 18 months of age to be associated with other problems in psychosocial well-being later on.
The authors conclude: “As our results point out, increased screen time has multiple risks for children’s psychosocial well-being.
“These risk factors might accumulate in the long term and cause problems in children’s socio-emotional development later on.
“One possible mechanism accounting for the result might be that the time children spend on e-media reduces the time spent on constructive activities such as interactions with family members, reading and playing.”