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Why looking at phones, tablets may be harmful to kids under 2

Screen time at 12 months of age affected performance in school years later.

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(Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Looking at phones, tablets or TVs rewires the brains of kids under the age of two, according to new research.

It harms the development of "high-order cognitive skills" - such as decision-making, thinking and creativity.

The findings are based on scalp scans of 437 infants from Singapore aged 18 months.

The electroencephalogram (EEG) test measures neural activity through small, round discs with wires.

Corresponding author Dr. Evelyn Law, of the National University of Singapore, said one theory is staring at screens damages relationships with parents - which is vital for brain development.

She said: "Further efforts are urgently needed to distinguish the direct association of infant screen use compared with family factors that predispose early screen use on executive function impairments."

Screen time at 12 months of age affected performance in school - years later. The average amount was two hours a day.

It accounted for 40 percent of the difference in results.

Executive functions represent a collection of higher-order cognitive skills essential for self-regulation, learning, and academic achievement, as well as mental health.

They develop rapidly over the first years of life in concert with the prefrontal cortex and are highly susceptible to environmental influences.

Dr. Law said: "In this study, infant screen use was associated with alteredcortical EEG activity before age two years.

"The identified EEG markers mediated the association between infant screen time and executive functions."

Infants are particularly vulnerable to executive function deficits due to their difficulty processing information on 2-dimensional screens - a phenomenon known as 'video deficit.'

The need to comprehend challenging content, particularly designed for older children and adults, that are unfamiliar and fantastical in nature, requires tremendous cognitive resources and processing.


Dr. Law said: "This kind of processing relies heavily on attention primarily through the sensory pathways of the brain which leaves inadequate allocation of resources for prefrontal, top-down attention and typical development of executive functions."

Parents have been advised that screens should be banned for babies and toddlers - and under-fives be limited to one hour a day.

It can lead to obesity, slower brain and physical development and worse mental health, according to the World Health Organisation.

Dr. Law said: "Our study provides evidence for the persisting longitudinal association between infant screen time at age 12 months and attention and executive functioning outcomes at nine years of age.

"The outcome measures were teacher reports and objective laboratory tasks. Both corroborate real-world manifestations of observable impairments.

"In short, increased screen time in infancy is associated with impairments in cognitive processes critical for health, academic achievement and future work success.

"Screen time likely represents a measurable contextual characteristic of a family or a proxy for the quality of parent-child interaction."

She added: "Given the pervasiveness of infant screen use, our findings have public health implications on a population level."

The study is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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