Children as young as two are developing mental health problems because of smartphones and tablets, scientists warn.
Just an hour a day staring at a screen can be enough to make children more likely to be anxious or depressed.
This could be making them less curious, less able to finish tasks, less emotionally stable and lowering their self-control, the DailyMail reports.
Although teenagers are most at risk from the damaging devices, children under the age of 10 and toddlers’ still-developing brains are also being affected.
But research shows ‘zombie’ children spend nearly five hours every day gawping at electronic devices.
Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia say time spent on smartphones is a serious but avoidable cause of mental health issues.
“Half of mental health problems develop by adolescence,” professors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell said. “There is a need to identify factors linked to mental health issues that are [able to be changed] in this population, as most are difficult or impossible to influence. How children and adolescents spend their leisure time is [easier] to change.”
Parents and teachers must cut the amount of time children spend online or watching television while they’re studying, socialising, eating or even playing sport.
Professor Twenge said her study, one of the biggest of its kind, backs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ established screen time limit – one hour per day for children aged two to five.
It also suggests a similar limit – perhaps two hours – should be applied to school-aged children and adolescents, she added.
The researchers analysed data provided by the parents of more than 40,000 US children aged two to 17 for a nationwide health survey in 2016. The questionnaire asked about the youngsters’ medical care, any emotional, developmental or behavioural issues and their daily screen time.
Adolescents spending more than seven hours a day on screens are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression as those who spent an hour. Links between screen time and wellbeing are stronger among adolescents than young children, the study found.