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  • Writer's pictureShane

How Does Screen Time Affect Childhood Development?

Hi! I’m Shane Reilly, a professional EMF (electromagnetic field) inspector and certified Building Biologist. I’ve worked in this field since 2017 in hundreds of homes, vehicles, and offices. I do this work primarily in Oregon and Washington State, and I have also helped thousands of people via online consulting.


New research out of Japan should give pause to those of us that rely on digital babysitting. The paper can be found in JAMA Pediatrics from October 2023.

What is Digital Babysitting?

Simply put, digital babysitting is using technology like a cell phone, television, or iPad to occupy a child's attention. This is typically done to free up the parent so that they can focus on other activities.

Digital babysitting is an incredibly slippery slope, as many parents find out the hard way. The more you give your child a tech screen, the more they are going to want it in the future.

digital babysitting

I imagine many parents are so exhausted that they don't employ sound reasoning when deciding to hand their kid a tech screen. After all, the parents have experienced first-hand the hypnotic power of screens and social media. Tech addiction is real, so why do we think kids would be immune? Kids are still developing self-control and have unmyelinated (insulated) brains, so the siren call of tech is probably more powerful to them.

In my professional opinion, digital babysitting is one of the worst disservices we can do to our children. And personally, as a father of two, I have experienced the many benefits of raising children without digital pacifiers.

If you would like to recover from digital babysitting reliance, or have a digital babysitting proponent in your family, read on for new research to understand and elevate away from this harmful practice.

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How was this Research Setup?

The goal of this study was to examine the association between screen time exposure among children aged 1 year across 5 domains of development.

The researchers looked at approximately 7,000 parent-children pairs in Japan, roughly 50/50 split boys to girls. Pregnant women at 50 obstetric clinics and hospitals in the Miyagi and Iwate prefectures in Japan were recruited into the study between July 2013 and March 2017. It's important to note that this data was taken before the pandemic, which greatly increased tech use and screen time.

The mothers filled out questionnaires when their children were aged one, two, and four. Questions related to the amount of time children spent watching screens (TV, DVDs, video games, internet, mobile phones, tablets or other electronic devices) and to the following five domains of development:

  • communication (‘babbling, vocalizing, and understanding’)

  • gross motor skills (‘arm, body, and leg movement’)

  • fine motor skills (‘hand and finger movement’)

  • problem -solving skills (‘learning and playing with toys’) and

  • social skills (‘solitary social play and playing with toys and other children’).

What Did the Research on Childhood Development and Screen Time Find?

The investigators found a link between screen time and developmental delays by age 2 in the areas of communication, fine motor skills, problem-solving and social skills.

The more time the babies spent using screens, the greater the developmental delays they observed.

For example, one-year-olds who spent four or more hours a day using screens had, by age 2:

  • more than four and a half times the risk of delays in communication than babies who spent less than one hour a day on screens at age 1;

  • more than one and a half times the risk of delays in fine motor skills than babies who spent less than one hour a day on screens at age 1;

  • more than two and a half times the risk of delays in problem-solving skills than babies who spent less than one hour a day on screens at age 1;

  • more than double the risk of delays in personal and social skills than babies who spent less than one hour a day on screens at age 1.

Some of these delays persisted over time. The authors said, "We also observed an association between screen time at age 1 year and developmental delay at age 4 years in the communication … and problem-solving … domains."

The study also cast light on the characteristics of mothers of the high-screen-use babies. The authors wrote, "Mothers of children with high levels of screen time were characterized as being younger, having never given birth, and having a lower household income, lower maternal education level, and having postpartum depression."

The authors noted that "...the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics have issued guidelines that recommend limiting screen time for children, including a limit of 1 hour per day for children aged 2 to 5 years. However, a recent meta-analysis reported that only a minority of children meet these guidelines."

Other Health Concerns Related to Screen Time

Screen time has many well documented health impacts besides developmental delays. Here are a few:

  • clear evidence of a link between exposure to radiofrequency radiation (WiFi, BlueTooth, Cellular) and heart tumors in laboratory animals

  • Artificial light at night is significantly correlated for all forms of cancer & lung, breast, colorectal & prostate cancers individually.

  • Mental health issues like ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder. Plus circadian disruption, broken neural reward pathways and others.

How To Have a Healthy Pregnancy and Baby

The more tech you have around you during pregnancy, the higher your chance of miscarriage, as well as lower birth weight, and higher chance of passing anxiety on to your child.

The same rule applies if you are trying to get pregnant. Reucing your exposure to the radiation side of tech is a key factor. Here is an excellent article citing many health affects and research papers around fertility.

7 Tech Tips for Healthy Children

These are simple steps anyone can start using right away.

  • Convert your home to a safer tech hardwired internet system. It's faster, healthier and more secure than WiFi. You don't hve to be a techie to pull it off! Learn more here.

  • Baby monitoring options are typically high radiation. Here is a safer alternative.

  • Limit screen time as much as reasonably possible, but certainly no more than what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • none for children under 18 months; limited for children 18 months – 2 years; no more than 1 hour a day for children 2 – 5

  • Encourage children to play with non-digital toys that won't harm development. Books, blocks and art supplies are wonderful options

  • Make time to read a paper book to your child every day

  • Make time for your child to be outdoors interacting with the natural world

  • Set a healthy example: Limit your time on tech when kids can see. Show them a world where people look at each other when speaking and don't always have a cell phone in their hand.

I Need Help with a Digital Detox

If you and/or your children have slipped into unhealthy habits around tech and you would like to make a change, don't worry, help is available! Here are some options for you:

  • Consult with Victoria Dunckley MD, a psychologist specializing in digital detoxes

  • The book Glow Kids has many useful tools to help, but make sure to order a paper copy!

I Want to Make Sure My House Has Healthy Tech

Tech is all around us these days, from the power lines in the walls, to LED lighting, to the WiFi router and Alexa. My professional inspection services will help you identify all sources of unhealthy radiation in your home and what you can do about them. This won't take you back to the stone age, rather to the healthy tech age!

You can schedule a free 15-minute consult to discuss here:

optimal dwelling spaces LLC professional emf inspector

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