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Screen time with limited impact on preschoolers, new study finds

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

A new study shows that screen time may have less impact on achievement for preschoolers than some parents fear.

A study from Ohio State University, published in the Dayton Daily News, showed no impact from screen time on academic achievement over a year for a group of preschoolers across Ohio, but did show a slight impact from high screen time use on social skills.

The study, conducted by the university’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy, found children who had very high levels of screen use – especially at night time – did have smaller gains in some social and behavioral skills, but this was not the majority of children.

After about two hours of screen time, the quality of social skills began a gradual decline, according to the study. But two hours of screen time had less impact than four hours, the study also said, and so on.

The study was conducted on low-income children in Ohio who were attending preschool. Teachers rated the children on their social skills and the students underwent an academic assessment twice during the school year.

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day.

Rebecca Dore, the lead researcher on the study, said the results may help some parents feel less guilty about letting their kids use screen time.

“There is a lot of societal concern around the potential effects of kids using so much media and technology especially early in the school years, and what effects that might have on their developmental outcomes,” Dore said.

Dore said she believes part of the reason why academics were not impacted by screen time had to do with what the kids were doing on their devices.

If a kid is doing educational programming on their device, but would otherwise be staring out the window, Dore said that could be contributing to their academic development.

But she also cautioned that if a kid has been consuming a high amount of screentime, it may be best to redirect into doing something else.

“I think it’s really what the take home message here is, it’s more extreme levels of media use that seem to matter,” Dore said.

Dore said more research is needed in this area, looking specifically at when screens are used and their impacts on school, as well as any impacts on mental and physical health.

She said it would also be interesting to see a similar study done on higher-income preschool kids, because they might be using screen time as a replacement for different activities than a low-income kid.

“What activities are being displaced might make a difference in terms of use,” Dore said.

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