Screen time and kids: New research finds link between early screen time and sensory issues in toddlers

A new study is sounding the alarm as to when it's safe for children to be exposed to screen time.

Researchers at Drexel University looked at screen habit data from 1,471 children aged 24 months or younger. They found that exposing babies and toddlers under the age of  2 to television or screen time could lead to sensory processing issues. 

"We use data from the National Children's Study and looked at screen exposure at three time periods, as well as sensory processing outcomes afterwards. So the time periods were 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months, and we found that screen exposure that at each of these time periods showed an association with increased atypical sensory processing at 33 months," says Karen Heffler, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Drexel University.

RELATED: New York could soon offer paid pregnancy leave, governor says

They asked caregivers questions regarding how the child responds to things that they may be seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, and experiencing. 

The study revealed that one-year-olds who spent time in front of screens have a 105% higher chance of developing sensory processing issues by the time they are 33 months old.

"We weren't surprised about the findings of this study because young children, their neuro connectivity, how they process things, is affected by their sensory experiences," says Heffler.

This latest study adds to a list of concerns linked to toddler screen time, which include sleep problems, ADHD and autism. 

RELATED: Kindergarten enrollment lags since COVID-19 pandemic. Some parents don't see the point

"Atypical sensory processing is seen in about 60% of children with ADHD, about 90% of children with autism spectrum disorder, and some of the symptoms in autism spectrum disorder, such as, restricted, and repetitive behaviors, are very highly associated with sensory sensitivity," Heffler said.

Doctor Heffler, who is the lead author of the study,  says this study isn't about judging parents or making them feel guilty, but to make them aware, so they can make changes. Her advice is to engage children in chores around the house and do more playtime, instead of having them in front of the screen.

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.