The next time you think about passing your preschooler a smartphone or tablet at the dinner table to keep them entertained, you might want to think twice.
A new study out of the University of Alberta has found that by the age of 5, children who spent two hours or more looking at a screen each day were 7.7 times more likely to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when compared to children who spent 30 minutes or less each day on a screen.
“Children should develop a healthy relationship with screens as young as 3 to 5 years of age,” Dr. Piush Mandhane, lead researcher told ABC News. “Our data suggests that between zero and 30 minutes per day is the optimal amount of screen time.”
The current study was conducted by gathering information from parents about their children’s screen time during their 3- and 5-year follow-ups. The research team also collected comprehensive behavioral assessments at the 5-year visit.
The researchers found that children with reported screen time in excess of two hours a day were more likely to exhibit behavioral problems by the time they turned 5, particularly poorer attention. Conversely, children who spent two hours or more each week participating in a form of structured physical activity were less likely to experience mental health issues.
Although the study could not establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the two, it suggests that a child’s preschool years may be a vital time for providing proper guidance on screen time limits.
Mandhane also suggested three tips for promoting healthy behaviors in preschoolers: Take advantage of apps to monitor screen time exposure, set a regular bedtime with no screens an hour before bed, and encourage organized physical activity.