Outdoor Time Reduces the Negative Effects of Mobile Devices on Children

A study showed that the excessive use of mobile devices in young children affects their neurological development. However, it also found that outdoor games can help mitigate it.

Children playing in a park

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: El tiempo al aire libre disminuye los efectos negativos de los dispositivos móviles en los niños

Before technological advances invaded the daily life of human beings, life was very different. In the case of children's social life and entertainment, a greater interaction with the environment could be evidenced. During childhood, it was very common to go out more frequently to the parks or the streets to have fun for hours in various types of games. However, with the advent of touch screens, this interaction in the open air ceased to be a frequent pastime, since today boys and girls prefer to spend more time with mobile devices than playing outdoors with a friend.

According to research published by the medical journal Jama Pedriatics, two-thirds of children under five in the world spend more than an hour a day looking at an electronic screen.

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Outdoor play as a mitigating factor for the harmful effects of technology on children

An investigation published on January 23 by the Hamamatsu Medical School and the Research Center for Child Mental Development determined that 2-year-old children who spend more than 1 hour in front of an electronic screen may present suboptimal neurodevelopment in communication and daily living skills at age 4. However, outdoor play at 2 years and 8 months could mitigate these negative effects.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers studied 885 children aged 18 months to 4 years. During the process, they looked at the relationship between 3 specific characteristics: the average amount of time a 2-year-old child spends in front of digital devices per day; the amount of outdoor play at 2 years and 8 months; and the effects on cognitive development.

Their methodology for measuring these 3 key characteristics was based on the standardized assessment tool called the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale-II. With this research mechanism, they sought to specifically assess 3 neurodevelopmental factors:

  1. Communication (receptive, expressive and written language skills).
  2. Daily living skills (capacities that involve personal, domestic, and community life).
  3. Socialization (interpersonal relationships, play, and coping skills).

While the study demonstrated the consequences of using an electronic device excessively, it also proved that playing outside diminishes suboptimal neurodevelopment due to spending a lot of time in front of a screen. Despite this, it is important to mention that this mitigation is specifically related to daily life skills, since the mitigation of playing outdoors did not modify the harmful impacts of screen time on communication.

“Although communication (like daily living skills) was worse in 4-year-olds who had more screen time at 2 years, outdoor play time had very different effects on these two outcomes. We were surprised that playing outside didn't actually alter the effects of screen time on communication, but it did have an effect on daily living skills,” said Kenji J. Tsuchiya, an Osaka-based professor and lead author of the research.

For this reason, it is valuable to keep a check on the use that young children may give to electronic screens.

Tips for responsible use of digital devices in young children

After concluding that spending time in front of screens does not contribute to children's language development, one should choose to avoid spending time in front of an electronic device for a baby. However, if you live with a child from 2 to 5 years of age, you can use these digital devices for a limited time and take into account the following recommendations:

  • Provide responsible support. It is important that the boy or girl have the company of an adult who encourages communication during this time while they are in front of the screen. For example, by asking questions and making comments about what they are observing in order to increase the infant's curiosity and conversational ability.
  • Be selective when choosing content. The quality of the message transmitted by the program will be essential to help in the development of the language of the viewers. This is why it is recommended to decide educational content that can help optimize the neurological process of minors.
  • Select the type of activities according to each person. While it is true that boys and girls these days spend a lot of time in front of screens, it is also true that each one has their tastes and personalities. That is, if the little one is usually restless, it is recommended to use electronic devices to exercise, dance, mindfulness, or yoga for minors.

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