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DAVIS, Calif. — With millions of children stuck at home during the coronavirus outbreak, digital learning has become the new normal. Although televisions and mobile devices might help students pass the time off from class, new research says parents should be keeping screens away from their toddlers.

According to researchers at the University of California, Davis, children who are exposed to screen media at an early age have a harder time controlling their behavior. Amanda C. Lawrence, the study’s lead author, says using screen media devices too early results in a lower ability to self-regulate.

More than 50 children, between 32 and 47 months-old, were observed during the two-and-a-half-year study. Preschoolers who started using devices early on struggled with the skills needed to plan and monitor their thoughts and feelings. The researchers add self-regulating skills can predict academic success, physical and mental health, and even in criminal behavior later in life.

To test those skills, researchers gave the children several tasks to measure how well they could control themselves, from building towers out of blocks to holding off on opening a wrapped present.

“Young children are often exposed to substantial amounts of screen media,” Lawrence said in a statement.

“Even though consumption of moderate amounts of high-quality children’s media has been established to have a positive influence on development, the current findings support limiting children’s use of mobile devices.”

Lawrence says mobile devices are especially problematic because they interfere with a child’s ability to develop socially outside of the home.

“The portable nature of mobile devices allows them to be used in any location, such as while waiting for appointments, or in line at a grocery store,” the doctoral candidate at UC Davis explained.

The study also found that a family’s race and income did not affect the results, but children from wealthier families were more likely to start using media devices at a younger age.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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