Using digital devices to soothe young children could mean they miss learning how to calm themselves

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Screen time can be scream time for toddlers: Using digital devices to soothe young children could mean they miss learning how to calm themselves down, research shows

  • The study by the University of Oxford has shown using screens to soothe a toddle could also mean they miss out on learning how to calm themselves down 
  • It found the longer toddlers spent in front of the screen during the coronavirus lockdown correlated with the poorer management of their own  emotions


Most parents know giving their children too much screen time can end in tears – now a study has found out why.

Previous research has shown that the blue light from television and tablets screen risks damaging the quality of children’s sleep, which can make them more temperamental.

But the new study, conducted by University of Oxford, has shown that using screens to soothe a toddler could also mean they miss out on learning how to calm themselves down.

Researchers asked the parents of 575 children aged between eight months and three years how long they spent in front of screens during the lockdowns of 2020.

The study also found screen time had a negative impact on thinking skills

The study also found screen time had a negative impact on thinking skills

They found the longer this was, the poorer the children managed their emotions.

The study, published in the journal Infancy, also found screen time had a negative impact on thinking skills.

The Oxford researchers, who have created free toddler activity packs to support families in their local area, also found children had stronger thinking skills the more time they spent on ‘enriching’ activities with parents.

Dr Alexandra Hendry, who led the study from the University of Oxford, said: ‘Screen use is likely only to be a problem for young children when it dominates their time.

It is not surprising that this happened more during the lockdowns, when playgrounds were closed and there was a lack of childcare.

‘It is also perfectly understandable that parents may rely on screens with young children, if they are struggling and desperate for a break and a tablet reliably calms their toddler down.

‘But what’s important going forward is that parents are given the support to find alternative ways to engage with their child, access to high-quality childcare and education, and access to mental health support if they are struggling.’

The study, published in the journal Infancy, also found children who spent more time using screens had poorer thinking skills.

These thinking skills included the ability to persevere with tricky tasks without being distracted, and evidence suggests children with poorer thinking skills may struggle more at school when they are older.

The study authors point out that screen use may not necessarily cause children to manage their emotions badly, or struggle with thinking skills.

The reason such children may spend more time in front of screens may be because they already have more tantrums, making parents more likely to use television and tablets to soothe them.

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