Does Too Much ‘Screen Time’ Have Your Preschooler Acting Out?

Preschoolers who spend a lot of time watching movies and shows on TVs and other screens are more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems by age 5, a Finnish study warns.

But despite their reputation, video games did not appear to promote any emotional problems in youngsters, researchers concluded.

“We found that high levels of screen time at the age of 1.5 years is related to peer problems at 5 years, and that high levels of screen time is related to more psychosocial problems at 5 years, including emotional and behavioral symptoms as well as attention difficulties and hyperactivity,” said senior researcher Dr. Juulia Paavonen, deputy chief physician for child psychiatry at Helsinki University Central Hospital. “This was mainly related to program viewing rather than playing games.”

The findings are troubling because preschoolers’ use of mobile phones and tablets tripled between 2013 and 2017, with many 4-year-olds now playing games, using apps or watching videos on these devices every day, researchers said in background notes.

For their study, Paavonen and colleagues examined data on nearly 700 children participating in a long-term pediatric health study in Finland.

The data showed that 23% of 18-month-olds and 95% of 5-year-olds in Finland spend more than an hour each day on an electronic device, in excess of World Health Organization screen time guidelines.

By 18 months of age, toddlers were spending an average 32 minutes per day on devices. This increased to 114 minutes a day — nearly two hours — by age 5.

More than two-thirds of 5-year-olds watched shows and movies for more than an hour a day, while about 1 in 10 spent more than an hour a day playing video games.