Fussy babies - clinically described as having "self-regulation" difficulties - were more likely to be watching a screen for longer periods of time later on, as toddlers, according to a new study published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Fussy 9-month-olds watched about 13 more minutes per day of television when they were 2 years-old than other toddlers, 2.5 hours as opposed to 2.2 hours. That may not seem like a lot, but researchers said it can snowball.
"Studies show that the early media habits really predict later media habits quite powerfully," Jenny Redesky a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and one of the study's authors. "So a 13 minute difference at 2 years could mean an even bigger difference down the road.
"Its important to pay attention to these smaller differences early on," she added.
The study used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort of 7,450 infants born in 2001. Parents of these children report information about their kids at certain age milestones, including screentime.
Researchers from Boston and the University of Washington, Seattle said children who fell into the category of most fussy - those with self-regulation issues at both 9 months and 2 years of age - had the most exposure to media in their toddler years.
They also said fussy infants from English-speaking households and families with low incomes were slightly more likely to have higher media exposure time.
Researchers initially hypothesized that media exposure would be elevated for fussy children, wondering if an exhausted parent might put a child infront of a screen as a "coping strategy" - but couldn't prove the link from this study.
"It was not clear whether these children’s use of media developed in response to their fussiness, or if media use somehow contributed to some of their self-regulation difficulties," the authors said in a press statement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned screen time for babies and toddlers, based largely on evidence that human-interaction at a young age is a much better stimulant and teacher for little ones.