'Growing Up in Ireland' links screen time to child behavioural difficulties

Five-year-old children who spend three hours a day or more watching television, playing video games, or on the internet are more likely to be among those with emotional or behavioural difficulties.

This latest research from the Growing Up in Ireland project showed that 18% of the children who spent the greatest amount of time on electronics displayed such behavioural problems compared to 10% of children with the lowest levels of “screen time”.

This finding reflects international research which suggests that prolonged screen time can affect child development, even when the content is suitable for young children.

On average, the research showed that 58% of five-year-olds spent less than two hours in front of a screen on a weekday but 14% recorded more than three hours of screen time.

It also found that twice as many Irish families, 25%, were having difficulties making ends meet when their child was five years of age compared to when they were last interviewed when the same child was nine months.

The research showed where there is more financial pressure in the home, parents are more likely to use aggressive punishment such as smacking and shouting.

However, Irish parents do use more positive strategies on the whole such as explaining why a particular behaviour is wrong.

It also showed that while there was only a small gap between the health of babies born to parents in the highest and lowest social groups, by the time their children reached five years of age, a clear gap had emerged.

Up to 75% of children in the highest group were very healthy while this fell to 67% in the lowest social grouping.

It also showed a massive gap between the diets of the wealthier and poorer families with children from lower-income groups consuming 23% more calories per day than those in the highest income group.

This latest wave of Growing Up in Ireland research, which is funded by the Department of Children, showed that one-in-five children were overweight or obese at five years old. Girls were more likely to be overweight than boys and girls were also involved in less physical play or less likely to be the member of a sports club or team.

The research found that the vast majority of five-year-old children are happy in school with just 5% complaining about attendance once a week.

But at this age, girls are more engaged with school and less likely to complain about having to attend.

It also revealed that 95% of children had availed of the preschool year in the 12 months before they began school and that 83% of parents prepared their first- born children for school by reading, writing, and practicing numbers with them.

A quarter of parents said their children would not have had a preschool education without the State’s free preschool year — this figure rose to a third amongst the more disadvantaged.


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