Early Exposure To Screen Devices May Lead To Emotional And Behavioural Difficulties In Preschool Students, Says Study

Early Exposure To Screen Devices May Lead To Emotional And Behavioural Difficulties In Preschool Students, Says Study

A new study conducted by KK Hospital and NUS urges parents to stop their children from using any screen device before 18 months of age. Read more here.

In recent months, there has been a slew of studies that warned parents of the effects of children's excessive use of screen devices as it causes a range of developmental issues. 

This month, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), together with the National University of Singapore (NUS), takes a similar stance with their new study which examines the links between early screen exposure, sleep disruption and emotional, behavioural difficulties in children.

The study found that first exposure to screen devices—such as smartphones, tablets, videogame consoles, television  and the like—before 18 months of age and the presence of multiple screen devices in the bedroom are associated with elevated sleep disruption and emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) in preschool children with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs).

Dr Mae Wong, Senior Consultant, Department of Child Development at KKH, who led the study said although the research was conducted in children with NDDs, the results are "applicable to the general population and aligned with existing evidence from studies that have been done on typically developing children." 

Conducted from 2015 to 2017, the study collected data from 367 preschool children in Singapore aged two to five years old with NDDs such as autism, language delay, global developmental delay, and learning disorders.

benefits of limiting screen time

Sleep disruption 

According to the study, 72.3% of children had parent-reported elevated sleep problems.

Researchers deduce that this is possible because more than half of the children surveyed had at least one screen device in their bedrooms.

For many years now, studies have proven that watching shows on mobile devices before sleep negatively affects sleep quantity and quality

But that's not all, even being in the presence of a screen in the bedroom causes sleep disruption in children.

This is because the brightness of the screen suppresses melatonin—a hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle production—delaying a child's normal sleep cycle.

Not getting enough or proper sleep leads to many problems including a decrease in daytime performance, nightmares or difficulty staying awake during the day, the study noted.

Emotional and behavioural difficulties 

Nearly 60% of children also had parent-reported clinically elevated emotional and behavioural difficulties.

This is linked to the lack of sleep which contributes to emotional and behavioural difficulties such as struggling to quickly retrieve or retain information to answer a question or complete a task, hyperactivity, inattention, poor conduct, low mood, and anxiety.

Home and Lifestyle Factors 

how to get kids to stop watching tv

Earlier introduction to screen use may be related to the home environment and lifestyle factors. 

For instance, at home, children may be exposed to screen usage at an early age due to sleeping in areas where media is consumed by the whole family such as the living room.

Or also because of co-sleeping with family members. 

Apart from that, the study also noted how parents rely on screen devices as tools to calm and manage their children.

While this may be a useful a soothing strategy, the continued use of screen devices to calm children may over time displace the development of the child's internal self-regulation mechanisms, perpetuating difficulties with emotional and behavioural self-regulation and increasing reliance on screen use.

What parents could do

The study found that increased screen use in preschool children was associated with parents who have higher screen use themselves, and who are less likely to have house rules about screen use.

So parents, ensure you, too, do not over-indulge on your.

Besides that, you could:

  • Look out for possible health associations between poor screen use habits, sleep quality and EBDs in their children
  • Make modifications to the home environment and family lifestyle to encourage regulated, interactive screen use
  • Refrain their kids from using any screen device before 18 months of age
  • For parents who have children between 2 to 5 years old, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programmes. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them. 
  • Keep bedrooms and sleeping areas free from screen devices and avoid screen use within 1 hour of bedtime 

Parents, it is important to practise self-restraint and be a role model of good behaviour when it comes to screen usage. 

Got a parenting concern? Read articles or ask away and get instant answers on our app. Download theAsianparent Community on iOS or Android now!

Written by

Shreya Jagdish

app info
get app banner