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

BC Human Rights Tribunal. (The Canadian Press)
Human rights tribunal rejects complaint against Surrey brewery

Tribunal dismisses former worker’s claim he was bullied because of his ethnicity

A memorial of flowers, notes and photos grew quickly on the median adjacent to where Paul Prestbakmo died on Aug. 16. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Witness in South Surrey murder trial says he saw Paul Prestbakmo get stabbed

Defence questions difference between witness’ statements to police, testimony

Outside Surrey council chambers. (File photo)
A third Surrey councillor says she’ll be donating her pay raise to charity

Jack Hundial, Steven Pettigrew and Linda Annis say they’ll give their increase to charity after council voted itself a pay hike in a meeting closed to the public

A barrel racer is seen at the Cloverdale Rodeo. (Photo courtesy Cloverdale Rodeo)
Cloverdale Rodeo & Country Fair postponed until later in 2021

Rodeo president say both public safety related to the pandemic and the removal of border restrictions will determine new date

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Beginning late Tuesday, anti-pipeline protesters blocked the intersection of Hastings Street and Clark Drive in Vancouver. (Instagram/Braidedwarriors)
Demonstrators block key access to Vancouver port over jail for pipeline protester

They group is protesting a 90-day jail sentence handed to a fellow anti-pipeline protester

Two Vancouver police officers were struck by a car when the driver learned he was being arrested for allegedly using a fraudulent credit card to pay for food. (Vancouver Police Department)
Driver being arrested for alleged food order fraud rams Vancouver police with car

Two officers are in stable condition, suffering with soft tissue injuries following the incident

A discarded blue surgical mask is shown hanging in a bush in Montreal, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
B.C. RMT suspended for not wearing a mask after confirmed by undercover clients

College of Massage Therapists has 5 open files, said suspension necessary to protect public

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Missing woman’s remains recovered after Vancouver Island boat fire

Remains of a 60-year-old woman recovered after Feb. 27 boat fire took her life

This poster, spreading misinformation regarding COVID-19 restrictions, has been popping up in communities across Vancouver Island.
Poster popping up on Vancouver Island falsely claims COVID restrictions are over

Unattributed poster claims COVID restrictions ended March 1; Island Health responds

Most Read