Study: Screen time affects toddlers’ life skills

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(NewsNation) — New research from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign shows that 24-month-olds who spent less than 60 minutes looking at screens each day had better executive functioning skills than those who didn’t.

Toddlers who engaged in daily physical activity were also found to have better executive function, which Naiman Khan, a kinesiology and community health professor, said involves people’s abilities to engage in goal-directed behaviors.

Khan, who led the study with food science and human nutrition professor Sharon Donovan and graduate student Arden McMath, said executive function includes abilities such as regulating thoughts, emotions and behavior; working memory and switching attention between tasks or competing demands.

“We found that toddlers who engaged in less than 60 minutes of screen time per day had significantly greater ability to actively control their own cognition than those who spent more time staring at phones, tablets, televisions and computers,” McMath said in an article from the university. “They had greater inhibitory control, working memory and overall executive function.”

Families of the 356 toddlers who took part in the new research are also participants in the University of Illinois’ STRONG KIDS 2 cohort study, according to an article written by the university.

STRONG KIDS 2 follows children from birth to 5 years old, and looks at the factors that predict their dietary habits and weight trajectories. The study uses parental surveys and data on the children collected eight times over five years, according to the University of Illinois.

Surveys ask parents to report on their child’s daily habits, including screen time, how physically active they were, if they had enough servings of fruit and vegetables, and their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Parents also responded to a survey asking about their toddler’s ability to organize their thoughts, regulate their emotional responses, inhibit impulses, remember information and shift attention between tasks.

McMath said a solution to too much screen time is encouraging children to replace their time at the iPad or television with other activities.

“Going to the playground is always good. Exposing them to various types of physical activity is good,” McMath said Tuesday on NewsNation’s “Morning in America.” “Because obviously, they’re all going to have their own preferences as they get older.”

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