The Scary Truth About Your Toddler & TV

It’s a truth universally acknowledged: Kids love cartoons. Whether they’re watching a movie or dancing along to toddler tunes, it’s pretty much always a hit. But a new study just revealed all that screen time could be detrimental to your child’s health. Too much can actually cause developmental delays.

The study, conducted by psychologists at the University of Calgary and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, followed 2,500 2-year-olds between 2011 and 2016. Researchers used a questionnaire called “Ages and Stages” to monitor their development and to track how much time the toddlers spent in front of a screen, including time spent watching television, playing video games and/or on a tablet, phone or other screen. And while all the data was self-reported — parents and caregivers were responsible for completing the aforementioned questionnaires — the results were shocking. According to the study, “higher levels of screen time in children aged 24 and 36 months were associated with poor performance on a screening measure assessing children’s achievement of development milestones at 36 and 60 months, respectively.”

Dr. Sheri Madigan, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Calgary, member of the Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a statement that these results are telling. “Our study shows that preschool kids who get too much screen time, on video games, internet-connected devices, television screens, and other digital mediums are among those showing delays and deficits in learning by the time they enter school at the age of five.”

Madigan notes that “one reason there may be disparities in learning and behaviour at school is because some kids are in front of their screens far too often in early childhood. However, she also believes a lack of physical activity is problematic. “A lot of the positive stimulation that helps kids with their physical and cognitive development comes from interactions with caregivers,” Madigan said. “When they’re in front of their screens, these important parent-child interactions aren’t happening.”

She is, of course, right. Time in front of the TV is time away from the family, but before you beat yourself up, keep in mind this study is not de facto. Correlation does not imply causation, and additional studies are needed. Plus, we’re all guilty of using Big Bird to babysit our kids. So don’t fret. Breathe. And instead of swearing off screen time, simply keep an eye on it — because while TV is fun, no character can rival you.

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