Unraveling the Impact of Screen Time on Infant Development

In the age of technology, concerns about its influence on children’s development are on the rise. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for babies under 18-24 months. However, a groundbreaking study from researchers at Drexel’s College of Medicine takes it a step further, suggesting that the impact of screen time on infants may be more significant than we thought.

The Study
The study, involving 1,471 children, uncovered a connection between screen time exposure and the development of atypical sensory behaviors. The researchers categorized behaviors as “high,” “typical,” or “low” sensory levels. High sensory behaviors indicate that children are easily stimulated and overwhelmed by sensory information, potentially leading to sensory avoidance later in life, low sensory behaviors indicate difficulty processing or interpreting sensory information.

Key Findings
At 12 months, screen exposure correlated with a staggering 105% greater likelihood of exhibiting “high” sensory behaviors.
By 18 months, each additional hour of daily screen time was linked to a 23% increase in displaying “high” sensory behaviors.
At 24 months, each extra hour of daily screen time correlated to a 20% increase in displaying “high” sensory behaviors.
Beyond the Numbers

This study echoes broader concerns about the impact of screen time on developmental outcomes in infants and toddlers. The list includes language and problem-solving delays, behavioral issues, sleep struggles, and decreased attention. Lead author Karen Heffler, MD, points out the potential implications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, where atypical sensory processing is prevalent.

A Link to Behavioral Problems
Heffler suggests that due to the association between screen time and behavioral problems, reducing screen time, in addition to existing therapy measures, could be beneficial for children showing signs of sensory issues. Moreover, she speculates that this could be a contributing factor to the rise in autism and ADHD diagnoses.

The Evolution of Screen Time
As technology has advanced, so has screen time. A 2023 study reveals that, on average, children at 6 months were exposed to 1 hour and 16 minutes of screen time per day (Brushe et al., 2023). By 24 months, this increased to an average of 2 hours and 28 minutes daily. The study underscores the need for attention to screen time patterns, as some children exceeded 3 hours of screen time at 6 months.

The Path Forward
While the Drexel study focused on TV and DVDs, it sheds light on the broader connection between screen time and atypical sensory behaviors. The authors emphasize the need for further research to understand specific sensory-related behaviors and whether early childhood screen exposure limits can enhance sensory development.

In the complex landscape of technology and infant development, this study acts as a compass, guiding parents, caregivers, and researchers toward a deeper understanding of the intricate relationship between screen time and sensory development in our youngest generation.