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Excessive screen time in infancy may be linked to lower cognitive abilities later in childhood

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Excessive screen time in infancy

According to a new study, the amount of time babies spend looking at computers, TV, and phone screens during their first year of life may be indirectly linked to lower cognitive abilities later in life.

According to the study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, babies who watched an average of two hours on the screen a day performed worse later, at the age of 9, on executive functions.

Executive functions, linked to long-term academic success, are defined by the study’s researchers as “a set of higher-order cognitive skills essential for self-regulation, learning, and academic achievement, as well as mental health”.

The researchers studied more than 400 children.

“They did EEGs to test and study brain waves at about 18 months, then connected the dots between the screen time they saw in infancy and their performance on tests of memory and attention toward the age of 9,” explained Dr. Jennifer Ashton. , ABC News chief medical correspondent, who was not involved in the study. “What they found was that the babies who spent the most time in front of a screen…had the worst tests of attention and memory at age 9.”

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The study did not prove that screen time directly led to lower cognitive functioning. Other factors, such as family income level, also seemed to be linked to lower cognitive functioning scores.

Nonetheless, the results follow along with advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under 2 should not have screen time.

The AAP recommends that children ages 2 to 5 be limited to one hour of screen time per day under the supervision of a caregiver.

More than 75% of children under 2 and 64% of children 2-5 years old exceed recommended guidelines, according to researchers at the University of Calgary, who analyzed more than 60 studies involving more than 89,000 children in the world.

PHOTO: In this file photo, a toddler watches cartoons on the phone.

In this photo, a toddler is watching cartoons on the phone.

Pavlina Popovska/Getty Images

Above age 5, the AAP says parents should set limits on screen time and work with their children to create a family media use plan that sets time limits and establishes guidelines on the type of media children consume.

“Some studies suggest that with older children, especially teenagers, there may be social or emotional benefits,” Ashton said. “So it’s really not just the amount, it’s what our teenagers and kids are consuming on screen that really makes a big difference.”

Earlier this week, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy made headlines when he said he thought 13 was too young for children to be on social media platforms. , despite some of the most popular platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, setting this as their minimum age requirement.

Social media use has been linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety, body image issues, and lower life satisfaction in some teenage boys and girls, research shows. Heavy social media use as teens go through puberty is linked to lower life satisfaction a year later, a large study has found.

Not all teenagers have these experiences. Researchers are still struggling to understand who is most at risk of negative effects from social media, and it’s not yet clear if there are any differences in mental health effects based on when children start using social media.

For parents trying to navigate advice on social media and screen time with their kids, Ashton shared these four tips:

1. No phones at the table for meals or family gatherings.

2. Stop Screen Time an hour before bedtime.

3. Keep phones and screens out of the bedroom while sleeping.

4. Lead by example as parents limiting their own screen time and use of social media.

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