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How Do Digital Devices Affect Your Children’s Development?

Along with the thriving technological era that brings us incredible medical advancements and easier passage of communication, comes a different way of life. Digital devices and their screens have become a near necessity in modern life. While they provide many benefits to life, research conducted over the last decade has encouraged an investigation into the effects of these devices. This article explores how the excessive use of digital devices affects our children.

how digital devices affect children

Modern day screen use in children

The trend of technology is well and truly underway, with 89% of American households owning a computer [1] and 80.76% of the world population, owning a smartphone [2]. This mass exposure and easy access to technology is impacting the habits of modern children. Furthermore, the results of multiple studies show that on average children spend 2 hours a day looking at digital screens [3]. These notable numbers, that exceed that of pediatric advice, which recommends that children spend no more than 1 hour per day using device screens [4], have triggered investigations into the impact of screen time on childhood development.

A study based in Canada, showed that digital devices and their potential impact on childhood developments is significant, considering that by the age of school entry, 1 in 4 children show signs of developmental delays [5]. Research from a study [6], found that infants who displayed poor self-regulation have increased screen time.

The relationship between screen time and childhood development

Pregnant women were recruited for the Canadian study between 2008 and 2010 [7]. The children’s progress and development were measured using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire Third Edition (ASQ-3) which the mothers would fill out. The questionnaire was completed when the children were 4 months, 1 year old, 2 years old, 3 years old and 5 years old, and measured 5 categories of development: communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem solving and personal-social skills. Their results suggest that screen time is the initial factor, not developmental delays.

On average the children spent 25 hours a week watching television at the age of 3. Increased screen time at 2 years old was associated with decreased performance on the ASQ-3 at the following check-up at 3 years old.

This same pattern was seen between the check-up at 3 years old and the check-up at 5 years old. It is thought that this trend of children with higher screen time experiencing developmental delays, could be due to children losing time that they would normally spend developing their skills. For example, they note the way that screens interrupt interactions between children and their caregivers, limiting their opportunities for social exchanges that are needed for healthy development of social relationships [8].

how digital devices affect children

Screen time and the development of the human eye

Among the developmental risks for children that screen time places children at a higher risk for, is the development of a healthy eye.

Dry eyes

A study found that extended periods of screen time could result in dry eyes [12]. Dry eyes refers to the symptoms that come about by an insufficient production of tears, inadequate tears or a lack of blinking to relubricate the eye. Research has found that when you are watching a screen, you tend not to have as many completed blinks, resulting in symptoms of dry eyes, like red, painful eyes [13].

Myopia

Excessive screen time has been linked to higher rates of myopia in children. Myopia is a visual impairment where near objects appear clear, and far away objects appear blurred. The rate of incidence of myopia in Asia is already notably high, at 96.5% of the population of Asia being myopic [14]. However, with technology on the rise, scientists fear that people the world over may be at risk of a “myopia boom” [15].

People who are exposed to increased levels of digital screen time are at a higher risk of developing myopia, and their myopia progressing at an expedited rate [16]. Moreover, the younger that a child develops myopia, the more likely that they are to go on to develop high myopia, which places you at a higher risk of myopia related sight loss and eye disease [17]. This means that if a child is experiencing higher screen time from a young age, they are more likely to develop myopia and high myopia.

References

[1] Camille Ryan. Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2016. American Community Survey Reports. United States Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration. 2016.

[2]  How Many People Have Smartphones Worldwide (Sept 2021) (bankmycell.com)

[3] Common Sense Media. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2017. Common Sense Media Website.

[4] American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. 2016.

[5] M Janus, D R Offord. Developmental and Psychometric Properties of the Early Development Instrument (EDI): A Measure of Children’s School Readiness. Can J Behav Sci, vol 39, issue 1, page 1-22. 2007.

[6] Jenny S Radesky, MD, Michael Silverstein, MD, Barry Zuckerman, MD, Dimitri A Chistakis, MD. Infant Self-Regulation and Early Childhood Media Exposure. Pediatrics, vol 133, issue 5. 2014.

[7] Sheri Madigan, PhD, Dillon Browne, PhD, Nicole Racine PhD, et al. Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test. JAMA Pediatr, vol 173, issue 3, page 244-250. 2019.

[8] E Hoff. The Specificity of Environmental Influence: Socioeconomic Status Affects Early Vocabulary Development via Maternal Speech. Child Dev, vol 74, issue 5, page 1368-1378. 2003.

[9] R R Thacker, M M Garrison, D A Christakis. A Systematic Review for the Effects of Television Viewing by Infants and Preschoolers. Pediatrics, vol 118, issue 5, page 2025-2031. 2006.

[10] J S Radesky, J Schumacher, B Zuckerman. Mobile and Interactive Media use by Young Children: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown. Pediatrics, vol 135, issue 1, page 1-3. 2015.

[11] Weerasak Chonchaiya, Chandhita Pruksananonda. Television Viewing Associates with Delayed Language Development. Acta Paediatrica, vol 97, issue 7, page 977-982. 2008.

[12] Yui Mineshita, Hyeon-Ki Kim, Hanako Chijiki et al. Screen Time Duration and Timing: Effects on Obesity, Physical Activity, Dry Eyes, and Learning Ability in Elementary School Children.

[13] A J Bron, A Tomlinson, G N Foulks, J S Pepose, C Baudoin, G Geerling, K K Nichols, M A Lemp. Rethinking Dry Eye Disease: A Perspective on Clinical Implications. Ocul Surf, vol 12, issue 2, page S1-31. 2014.

[14] C W Pan, M Dirani, C Y Cheng, et al. The Age-Specific Prevalence of Myopia in Asia: a Meta-Analysis. Optom Vis Sci, vol 51, page 1348-1355. 2010.

[15] Elie Dolgin. The Myopia Boom. Nature, vol 519, page 276-278. 2015.

[16] Mohamed Dirani, Jonathan G Crowston, Tien Y Wong. From Reading Books to Increased Smart Device Screen Time. British Journal of Ophthalmology, vol 103, issue 1. 2019.

[17] Olavi Pärssinen, Markku Kauppinen. Risk Factors for High Myopia: A 22-Year Follow-Up Study from Childhood to Adulthood. Acta Ophthalmologica, vol 97, issue 5, page 510-518. 2018.

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