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Natural Awakenings

Smartphones Make Poor Babysitters

Screen time bad for children

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Parents are busy people, often juggling multiple commitments. Add a toddler meltdown to the mix, and it is easy to understand why parents may reach for a tablet, smartphone or other screen to calm and occupy the child. A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that children pay a price for this strategy.


Researchers at the University of Michigan concluded that the frequent use of mobile devices to calm young children may displace their opportunities for learning emotion-regulation strategies over time. The cohort study involved a sample of English-speaking parents of typically developing children aged 3 to 5. The scientists gathered baseline data at the start of the study, as well as follow-up evidence after three months and six months. 


The participating parents used a five-point scale to report how often they used mobile devices to calm upset children. At each follow-up, the child’s executive functioning and emotional reactivity were assessed. The study found that the frequent use of mobile devices for calming young children was associated with increased emotional dysregulation, especially in boys, and included rapid shifts between sadness and excitement, greater impulsivity and sudden mood changes.

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