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Using Devices to Calm Children Can Backfire Long Term

Regularly using a mobile device as a calming strategy for your child could lead to worse behavioral challenges down the road, according to developmental behavioral pediatricians at University of Michigan Health C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

What to Know

  • Using a mobile device to distract children from how they are feeling may displace opportunities for them to develop independent, alternative methods to self-regulate, especially in early childhood.

  • Signs of increased dysregulation could include rapid shifts between sadness and excitement, a sudden change in mood or feelings, and heightened impulsivity.

  • The association between device-calming and emotional consequences may be particularly high among young boys and children who are already experiencing hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and a strong temperament that makes them more likely to react intensely to feelings such as anger, frustration, and sadness.

  • While occasional use of media to occupy children is expected and understandable, it is important that it not become a primary or regular soothing tool, and children should be given clear expectations of when and where devices can be used.

  • The preschool-to-kindergarten period is a developmental stage in which children may be more likely to exhibit difficult behaviors, such as tantrums, defiance, and intense emotions, but parents should resist using devices as a parenting strategy.

This is a summary of the article, “Longitudinal Association Between Use of Mobile Devices for Calming and Emotional Reactivity and Executive Functioning in Children Aged 3 to 5 Years,” published in JAMA Pediatrics on December 20, 2022. The full article can be found on jamanetwork.com.

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  • Posted on February 15, 2023