Screen Time Is Bad For Kids' Development: University Of Alberta Researchers

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It might be time to ditch those Baby Einstein DVDs, Sesame Street recordings and educational apps. A study underway at the University of Alberta questions whether electronic media can really help children's development.

"We found that the more physical activity children do, the better [their] cognitive development. The more time they spend on screens, like tablets and cell phones, tends to be either detrimentally related to their development or not related at all," said Valerie Carson, assistant professor of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta, in an interview with the Edmonton Sun.

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Carson, along with Sandra Wiebe, an associate psychology professor, are studying how electronic devices affect children's learning and development. The pair are recruiting 100 children, between the ages of 2.5 and 4.5, and assessing their "cognitive flexibility."

Children participating in the study are hooked up to caps full of electrodes that record their brain activity. Then the kids are given computer games to play, which require them to switch between types of information, to use their memory, or to focus.

The researchers are still looking for 50 more children to participate, but they say an overview of past studies shows significant benefits to reading or physical activity when compared with screen time for kids.

“A lot of parents use the screens because they think it will help (kids) prepare better for school. The research isn’t matching up with the marketing that’s out there,” Carson told the Edmonton Journal.

"We found that the more physical activity children do, the better [their] cognitive development."

Carson and Wiebe are hoping that their study will show more definitively how screen time effects children's development. In the meantime, the researchers suggest parents should try to strike a balance between electronics and other activities.

The key message is moderation,” Carson told Metro News. “And if parents continue to interact with their children while they’re using those screens, they could potentially negate some of the detrimental effects.”

So, how much screen time should kids get? Here's what the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines say:

  • Babies to two-year-olds: No screen time is recommended.
  • Two to four-year-olds: Maximum one hour per day.
  • Five to 11-year-olds: Maximum two hours per day.
  • 12 to 17-year-olds: Maximum two hours per day.

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