Although it may be a strategy shared by many parents, attempting to soothe their preschoolers through a digital device is downright deleterious, associated with a host of behavioral difficulties later in life. Sounding the alarm is a study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics, led by scientists at Michigan Medicine. The team, led by Jenny Radesky, involved 422 parents and as many children between the ages of three and five.

Between August 2018 and January 2020, adult participants reported on electronic device use habits, while researchers gathered information on the reactivity and emotional dysregulation of toddlers. According to the survey findings, frequent use of devices such as smartphones and tablets to calm children between the ages of 3 and 5 was associated with greater emotional dysregulation in children, particularly boys.

“Electronic devices,” Radesky says, “may seem like a harmless tool to reduce stress in toddlers, but they could cause serious long-term consequences. Especially in early childhood, these objects may replace opportunities for developing independent and alternative methods of self-regulation.”

Findings suggest that the association between smartphone and tablet use and emotional consequences was particularly pronounced among boys and children prone to experience hyperactivity, impulsivity and a strong temper.

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