With the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are living in uncertain times where children may be exposed to tablets and smartphones (as well as other technologies) now more than ever. With that said, a study stemming from the University of California, Davis, offers an interesting perspective when it comes to introducing these devices to younger children at home.
According to the research, kids who are given smartphones and tablets at an early age find it harder to self-regulate.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, kids between the ages of eight and 10 spend an average of six hours daily on these screens, while those aged between 11 to 14 spend approximately nine hours, on average, each day.
The recent study revealed that screen time might have serious implications around development when children are giving these devices at an early age.
The study team began their research by handing out flyers to parents via community events and preschool locations. Seventy-three children between the ages of 32 and 47 months were recruited to participate, with 56 of them offering data for review. The research was conducted over a time period of two-and-a-half years, from the summer of 2016 to early 2019.
During the study period, the kids attended 90-minute sessions at the UC Davis campus, where they were assessed on self-regulation abilities. This was defined by their ability to plan, control, as well as monitor behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. Many believe these skills are vital when it comes to academic and social abilities, as well as mental and physical well-being, and income, later in life.
The study team asked the kids to finish some tasks that included taking turns building a blocks tower, and walking (slowly) along a line drawn out on the floor.
The team also conducted a test around delayed gratification, where kids were asked to not open up a present, and the researchers walked out of the room for a short time. This experiment, which was launched originally in the ‘70s, reveals that those kiddos who can wait longer for rewards tend to have more positive outcomes as they grow into adults.
The results of these tests revealed that those younger children who began any amount of screen time – whether that be tablets, smartphones, television, or computers – early in life had decreased abilities around self-regulation.
Due to the findings, the study team recommended that parents limit screen time for preschool children as it relates to mobile devices.
Interestingly enough, the researchers discovered that early exposer to traditional technology, like computers and television, were not linked to self-regulation. This might be due to educational and child-friendly content on TV these days; it also might be linked to the fact that these forms of technology are more “fixed” in nature, versus a tablet or mobile device that can be taken anywhere.
At the end of the day, the main message from the research is that parents should think about delaying any type of introduction to screen devices when it comes to their younger kiddos, or limit any excessive use of these items if the kids do play on them.
With that said, there are some limitations to the study. First and foremost, the research covered only a small sample of kids, and the region of study did focus on middle-class families.
As many families are homebound these days, keeping children (both young and older) occupied is getting more and more challenging. Especially for those who have to work from home. While every parent has the best of intent when it comes to screen times and limitation, these “rules” might very well be thrown out the window, thanks to COVID-19 and self-isolation.