DEC 24, 2022 6:00 AM PST

Using Smartphones to Calm Children Might Have Long-Term Consequences

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In a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, a team of researchers at the University of Michigan examined the potential long-term emotional effects of using smartphones and tablets to calm young children ages 3-5. This study holds the potential to help us better understand the long-term cognitive effects of digital devices. The researchers found that using such devices to keep small children at bay was related to increased emotional dysregulation in kids.

"Using mobile devices to settle down a young child may seem like a harmless, temporary tool to reduce stress in the household, but there may be long term consequences if it's a regular go-to soothing strategy," said Dr. Jenny Radesky, M.D., who is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, and lead author on the study. "Particularly in early childhood, devices may displace opportunities for development of independent and alternative methods to self-regulate."

For the study, the researchers examined 422 parents and 422 children ages 3-5 between August 2018 and January 2020 and observed changes in emotional reactivity as the parents used the devices as calming tools for their children. The results indicated a high connection between the calming devices and emotional consequences among young boys who already exhibited behaviors of strong temperament, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

"Our findings suggest that using devices as a way to appease agitated children may especially be problematic to those who already struggle with emotional coping skills," Dr. Radesky said. "Caregivers may experience immediate relief from using devices if they quickly and effectively reduce children's negative and challenging behaviors. This feels rewarding to both parents and children and can motivate them both to maintain this cycle. The habit of using devices to manage difficult behavior strengthens over time as children's media demands strengthen as well. The more often devices are used, the less practice children -- and their parents -- get to use other coping strategies."

Sources: JAMA Pediatrics

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About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
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