Parents who limit their kids' screen time, it seems, may be doing them a service: a new study has found that babies who spend a lot of time looking at iPads and other screens experience developmental delays.
Published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association of Pediatrics, this new research out of Japan suggests that watching screens may limit infants' practicing of real-life motor skills that they glean from mimicking the people near them.
In a questionnaire, the parents of the more than 7,000 kids surveyed were asked a simple question: "On a typical day, how many hours do you allow your children to watch TV, DVDs, video games, internet games (including mobile phones and tablets), etc?"
After tracking results starting from infancy — meaning under one year of age — and ending at four years old, the scientists were able to correlate more time spent watching screens with delays in development, including gross and fine motor skills, language ability, and social skills.
By the age of two, kids who had up to four hours of screen time per day were, the researchers found, up to three times more likely to develop delays in communication and problem-solving skills, and those who spent more than four hours watching screens per day were nearly five times more likely to have communication delays, too.
"Kids learn how to talk if they’re encouraged to talk, and very often, if they’re just watching a screen, they’re not having an opportunity to practice talking," Dr. John Hutton, an associate professor of general and community pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati and who did not work on the study, told CNN. "They may hear a lot of words, but they’re not practicing saying a lot of words or having a lot of that back-and-forth interaction."
Along with the importance of play and social interaction on the development of motor, communication, and social skills, using tablets to handle discomfort — the way so many parents do when their kids get fussy — may also have negative impacts on a child's mental health development as well.
"Longer term, one of the real goals is for kids just to be able to sit quietly in their own thoughts," Hutton added. "When they’re allowed to be a little bit bored for a second, they get a little uncomfortable, but then they’re like, 'OK, I want to make myself more comfortable.' And that’s how creativity happens."
Adults, of course, also have difficulty sitting quietly with their own thoughts, and often turn to screens to manage boredom and discomfort — so maybe we could learn a thing or two for ourselves from this study, too.