CHANDLER, AZ — Televisions, smartphones, tablets; kids don't have to go far to find a screen. However, experts warn the rise in screen time is impacting children's basic motor skills and occupational therapists in the Valley are taking notice.
It is a busy afternoon at "Way to Grow" pediatric therapy in Chandler. Kids of all ages getting occupational, speech, and physical therapy in one of several fun but functional spaces.
Owner Heather Baumgartner helps evaluate every child as soon as they come in, and recently noticed a disturbing trend.
"Over the last five years or so we see a lot more kids coming in that are having problems with fine motor difficulties, coordination, a lot of postural strength difficulties, and core strengthening," Baumgartner said.
Problems that Baumgartner says are consistent with too much screen time, and they're manifesting in everything from a child's behavior and social skills, to their handwriting and vision.
"They're using their thumbs or fingers to swipe, and they're looking at the iPad, but it is two-dimensional versus a multi-dimensional or three-dimensional which effects their perception, their depth perception, looking from something close and up to a board," she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is also tracking the tech-trend.
In 2013, 38 percent of US children younger than two and 80 percent of two to four-years-old had used a mobile electronic media.
By 2015, about 97 percent of kids had used mobile devices and most started using them before the age of one.
Their recent report stated the increase in screen time, "directly interferes with both play activities and parent-child interactions."
"I see a lot more of that, kids having challenges with just the eye contact and the social skills and reciprocal communication and sportsmanship," Baumgartner said.
So what is a parent to do?
The official recommendation is less than one hour per day for kids two years or older, and no screen time for kids 18-24 months old. However, even Baumgartner admits that can be an unrealistic goal for today's busy families.
"The main areas would be cutting back a least an hour before bedtime and maybe putting them in a special place like a media-free zone," she said. "Not having them while they're eating and using them to build and engage more socially with each other, and then also the seating and positioning for playing on the iPads."