Letting toddlers play frequently on tablets, phones and game consoles could be putting them at a higher risk of emotional and behavioural problems when they start school, a new study suggests.
Pre-schoolers who extensively use electronic media are more likely to have hyperactivity issues, a short attention span, poor concentration and peer relationship issues when they turn five compared to their peers, academics found.
Researchers, from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, said that increased screen time has “multiple risks” for child wellbeing.
A new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, examined data on around 700 Finnish children.
Parents reported how much time their child spent using electronic media at 18 months and five years of age.
They found that 95% of pre-school children spent more than an hour on a screen every day.
The World Health Organisation says that screen time id not recommended for children under two.
Those aged two to four should not engage in more than an hour of screen time each day, and “less is better”, the guidance states.
The Finnish study found that the average screen time of a five-year-old was 114 minutes a day.
And for 18-month-olds it was an average of 32 minutes.
The authors found that high levels of screen among five-year-olds was linked to a risk of “multiple psychosocial problems”, including attention and concentration difficulties, hyperactivity and impulsivity, emotional internalising and externalising symptoms, and conduct problems.
But when they delved into the information further they found that lots of TV time at five years had an increased risk of several psychosocial problems.
But they said that playing video games had fewer associations but it was linked to hyperactivity.
Meanwhile, they found that 18-month-olds who had higher than recommended screen time were more likely to have “peer problems” later on.
But they said that they did not find a high usage level of electronic devices at 18 months of age to be associated with other problems in psychosocial well-being later on.
The authors conclude: “As our results point out, increased screen time has multiple risks for children’s psychosocial well-being.
“These risk factors might accumulate in the long term and cause problems in children’s socio-emotional development later on.
“One possible mechanism accounting for the result might be that the time children spend on e-media reduces the time spent on constructive activities such as interactions with family members, reading and playing.”