April 16, 2024
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Is Screen Time Harmful for Toddlers?

Part II

A new study is renewing a conversation about how much screen time is too much screen time for our youngest children. The findings were published in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers found that television screen time for children under the age of 2 is associated with “sensory differences” later in toddlerhood. “Sensory differences” refers to a condition when a child is over-sensitive to certain sensory experiences, under-sensitive or both.

The study found that children who watched any television or DVDs at 12 months of age had twice the odds of having a mix of sensory differences. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against any screen time for children under 2 years old, excluding live video chats. For kids between 2 and 5, it recommends a one-hour time limit.

It is important to emphasize that this study points to an association between screen time and sensory differences, but it doesn’t mean that screen time definitively causes these sensory differences. In this study, early-life digital media exposure was associated with atypical sensory processing outcomes in multiple domains. These findings suggest that digital media exposure might be a potential risk factor for the development of atypical sensory profiles. Further research is needed to understand the relationship between screen time and specific sensory-related developmental and behavioral outcomes, and whether minimizing early-life exposure can improve subsequent sensory-related outcomes.

In opposition to this research, other scientists claim that the fact that kids with autism and ADHD are more likely to have had high screen time does not mean that increased screen time causes autism and ADHD. Correlation does not equal causation; that is the most basic principle in science. It is more likely that children who are born with a neurodivergent brain are more attracted to screens because it is a type of stimulation that is easy to regulate and allows one to zone out when they are overwhelmed.

Another, separate issue that has been raised is that we should stop trying to blame autism/ADHD on environmental causes. Neurodivergence is not a disorder caused by something that needs fixing; it is a different way of processing information with which one is born. Unfortunately, it happens not to work very well with the way our society is set up, which causes a lot of issues and limits one’s ability to function.

Attachment disorders have been studied since the ‘60s. They were first noticed in infants and toddlers in orphanages. This type of disorder happens when parents (or caregivers) don’t interact with their children. Since empathy (compassion) can only be developed before the age of 3 years, they later may turn into personality disorders. The “pit of despair” experiment showed what happened when newborn monkeys were removed from their mothers and not touched or held. The longer the infant stayed in the pit, the more malformed their brains became. The same happened to infants and toddlers in Romanian orphanages. They demonstrated stereotypical behaviors and were autistic. They had reactive attachment disorder, which later can become antisocial personality disorder. The “pit of despair” study has been going on for so long that PETA demonstrates against it. But still the experts do not make the connection that this is happening to kids across the developed world right under pediatricians’ noses.

There are those in the medical field who seem to think it takes extreme environments to cause attachment disorders, but the disorders were observed in early childcare programs all the time. The symptoms are extreme behavioral issues along with speech and other developmental delays. They children didn’t interact with people or toys and didn’t know the difference between the two. They didn’t know the difference between their parents and other humans. Their “play” often came in the form of repetitively tapping their toys.

All the kids with attachment disorders received the diagnosis of autism by well-meaning doctors who assumed ABA therapy was the best solution. So they were sent to a teacher or behavior specialist to train them to “behave” or stop screaming. Except the biggest strategy in behavior therapy is to ignore the behavior. So we tell parents who may be emotionally neglecting their children to ignore them even more! If the child was on the autism spectrum, they tried to teach them social skills, but this is not the intensive mental health/attachment therapy the parents need to give their children. What all infants and toddlers require is at least one attached caregiver who consistently responds to their needs and positively interacts with them during the first three years of life, after which it is likely too late for the children to develop compassion/empathy.

There is literally no time to lose for these children, or for pediatricians and the “experts” to get this right. These aren’t kids in Romanian orphanages in the ‘60s. Children are “playing” with their parents’ cell phones or a tablet alone in a corner for hours every day. The question is not whether handheld devices harm children; it’s why is this happening? Where are their parents? Billions are wasted every year on the wrong therapies for misdiagnosed children. There wasn’t a sudden rise in autism. There’s been a rise in misdiagnosed attachment disorders.

How many hours a day is your child on a handheld device or in front of screens? How often do you talk or play with your child? How often do you read to your child? This lack of sufficient human interaction between young children and their caregivers is one of the most crucial and potentially dangerous issues facing humanity today. It’s very important to understand the issue and set it right!


Dr. Wallace Greene is the incoming principal of Yeshiva Keren HaTorah of Passaic-Clifton.

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