In an age of portable media, children’s fixation with screen time has increased exponentially. Yet, new research suggests kids still gravitate to the old-fashion television — with no discernible damage to their health.
Comparing pre-mobile device usage in 1997 to when mobile devices were widely available in 2014, the study — by the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work at Florida International University — found that television consumption still significantly outpaced mobile devices such as smart phones or tablets.
“There is growing concern over the amount of time that children, particularly very young children, spend watching shows and in front of screens,” Weiwei Chen, assistant professor in the department of health policy and management, said in a statement. “Our findings were surprising as it feels like mobile devices are omnipresent, but televisions are still the most common way for young children to consume media.”
The study, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that the average amount of screen time in 1997 for children up to the age of 2 was 1.3 hours, while children between the ages of 3 and 5 spent about 2.5 hours a day on screens. By 2014, children up to the age of 2 were using screens an average of 3 hours per day — more than double the amount of time. It was found that children aged 3 to 5 did not have a significant increase.
Jessica Adler, assistant professor in the department of history, in the Steven J. Green School of international and public affairs, said the study reinforces the belief that a variety of characteristics, such as education and income levels, relate to screen use.
“Further research is needed, once data become available, to assess changes in media consumption and device use in more recent years,” Adler said.
In a separate study, chief medical officers in the United Kingdom said there wasn’t enough evidence to support screen time guidelines for children.
However, they recommended a precautionary approach — including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s Screen Time Guidance — in addition to schools, government and technology companies’ actions to protect children and young people from too much screen time exposure.
“While there is a lack of evidence to suggest that screen time itself is harmful, the content and context of what children are viewing is paramount,” said RCPCH president Russell Viner.
Viner said parents should make decisions about screen time based on their child’s development and health, and whether they are getting enough exercise and sleep.
“It remains a question of balance, as it is when screen use gets in the way or restricts other activities that a child’s well-being can be negatively impacted,” he said.