A child plays with an iPad in his bedroom in Metairie, La., on October 21, 2011. A new study links preschoolers who got two hours of screen time or more per day to behavioural problems they experienced at age five. The research looked at more than 2,400 families and compared children who got at least two hours of screentime daily to those who had less than 30 minutes per day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Gerald Herbert

A child plays with an iPad in his bedroom in Metairie, La., on October 21, 2011. A new study links preschoolers who got two hours of screen time or more per day to behavioural problems they experienced at age five. The research looked at more than 2,400 families and compared children who got at least two hours of screentime daily to those who had less than 30 minutes per day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Gerald Herbert

Study links preschool screen time to behavioural and attention problems

The research looked at more than 2,400 families

A new study links excessive screen time among preschoolers to behavioural problems they experienced at age five.

The research looked at more than 2,400 families and compared children who got at least two hours of daily screen time to those who had less than 30 minutes per day.

Kids who spent more of their day in front of screens were five times more likely to exhibit clinically significant “externalizing” behavioural problems such as inattention. They were also more than seven times more likely to meet the criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but without aggression.

University of Alberta pediatrics professor Piush Mandhane, who led the study, says screen time was associated with problems more than any other risk factor considered, including sleep, parenting stress, and socioeconomic factors.

READ MORE: B.C. doctor weighs in on the kid ‘screen time’ debate

And the impact is significant, he says.

“It’s a big study (and) it shows five-fold increases, seven-fold increases. These aren’t small numbers,” says Mandhane. “These are huge numbers of increased risk.”

Parents reported daily screen time that included TV, DVDs, computers, video consoles, smart phones and tablets.

On average, three-year-old children spent 1.5 hours a day in front of a screen while five-year-olds spent an average of 1.4 hours a day in front of a screen.

Current Canadian guidelines suggest a one hour daily limit for preschoolers and a two-hour daily limit for five-year-olds. Kids younger than age 2 should get no screen time.

Mandhane suggests that be reduced to less than 30 minutes a day, but stops short of discouraging screen time altogether. He says parents should teach kids responsible screen habits, and model that behaviour themselves.

“This is the perfect time to talk about what is a healthy relationship with screens,” he says of the early years.

Mandhane says the whole day matters, adding that the more time kids spend with screens, the less likely they are to get a full night’s sleep — another risk factor in problem behaviour.

A significant preventative factor turned out to be organized sport.

Those kids who got more than two hours a week of structured athletics were at decreased risk of developing behavioural issues.

Mandhane points out that “the activity needed to have structure,” and that general physical activity did not appear to have the same preventative impact.

The research used data from the CHILD Cohort Study, a national birth cohort study collecting a range of health, lifestyle, and genetic information from nearly 3,500 children and their families from pregnancy to adolescence.

The data was collected between 2013 and 2017, and includes the experiences of Karla Bergstrom in St. Albert, Alta.

Bergstrom, who has three boys, aged 8, 11 and 13, says she wasn’t surprised by the findings.

“If it’s a weekend and it’s miserable outside, the Canadian winter, yeah they may have way more screen time than we typically like them to have — and that’s when they get moody and there tends to be more back talk and more aggression,” says Bergstrom, whose boys each have iPads and share a gaming system.

“They really do need the fresh air and they need to play.”

She submitted information on her youngest son, Colby, now 8, who has been using mobile devices since he was a toddler.

Colby says he knows that too much screen time is not good for him and admits to arguing “some of the time” when his mom tells him to turn off his iPad. But he’s also been playing hockey and baseball since the age of three.

Bergstrom says Colby doesn’t have any behavioural issues. She credits sports and daily chores with helping him learn discipline.

The findings were published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

The study did not look at screen content or screen type, such as television, computer, or tablet.

Mandhane suggests parents limit screen time by setting firm “no-screen” times during the day, or putting a timer on a device so that it shuts down automatically after a set period of time.

“If a child learns that it’s automatic and it’s not going to turn on then they will go figure out what else to do because they’re not going to sit in front of a black screen for too long.”

— By Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in South Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

BC Emergency Health Services has deployed the Major Incident Response Team (MIRRT) as COVID-19 positive cases rise in the Williams Lake region. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
B.C.’s rapid response paramedics deployed to Williams Lake as COVID-19 cases climb

BC Emergency Health Services has sent a Major Incident Rapid Response Team to the lakecity

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

Jethro Rolland, 8, and Guinevere Rolland, 6, test out the ice at the new outdoor rink in 100 Mile House. (Kelly Sinoski photo - 100 Mile Free Press).
Outdoor ice rinks popular Cariboo pastime

The skaters are out this winter across the South Cariboo.

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Most Read