New research shows a correlation between screen time and mental performance in kids.
The study makes recommendations about exactly how much screen time kids should have each day and the researchers say not all screen time is bad.
“Are we allowing kids to do it because it is social interaction and if we cut them off from screen time and that’s how they communicate, well you just put them in isolation, so we don’t want to do that either,” said Dr. Rebecca Dixon, Riley Hospital for Children pediatric hospitalist. “So not all screen time is bad. Just focusing on the why and limiting it so that it doesn’t take over their entire life and eliminate other things that are great as well.”
The study of 4,500 children ages eight to 11, looked at their physical activity, sleep patterns and time spent looking at screens in order to analyze how those factors affected their mental performance. The results were published in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Children aged six years old and up should be getting one hour of exercise every day, nine to eleven hours of sleep and no more than two hours of recreational screen time. Notice the word “recreational.”
That means the time spent on a computer or tablet at school or while completing homework wouldn’t necessarily count against children.
Only about 5 percent of kids in the United States actually check all those boxes for the appropriate amount of exercise, sleep and screen time every day. The research shows about two-thirds of kids spend more than two hours a day staring at screens.
Those who failed to meet all three criteria performed worse on thinking, language and memory tests than those met the recommendations.
Riley Hospital for Children’s Dr. Rebecca Dixon said when it comes to screen time, think about both quantity and quality.
“Where they may be going an educational thing or you’re co-playing with them. You’re watching what they’re watching, you know what they’re interacting with and you can also interpret some things for them because they’re not going to know exactly what they’re looking at, they might be learning their colors, you can help them with that,” Dr. Dixon said.
Experts do say children under two should not have any screen time at all. Kids two to five years old should have no more than one hour.
There are some tools to help you monitor screen time including parental controls on devices and remember television does count as screen time as well as phones, tablets, and video games.
Dr. Dixon suggests setting some absolutes in your household when it comes to screen time. For instance, no screen time at meal times, eliminate screens in the evening before bed and make sure children are charging their electronics outside the bedroom.