As parents, we’ve been conditioned to both worry—and, if we’re being completely honest, rely on—screen time. Yes, we know the importance of placing limitations on it, but we also know that when we need to get dinner made or keep a cranky child in line at a restaurant or on a flight, nothing does the job like some good old screen time. Now a new study is challenging what we thought about screens, and it may provide a bit of reassurance to parents who are in the trenches.
A new report published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests overall screen time has no association with a child’s performance at school—but after reviewing 58 studies researchers suggests that not all screen time is created equally, at least where its effect on academic performance is concerned.
According to the review, only screen time spent watching TV or playing passive video games has a negative impact on how children fare in school. Other uses of screen time (creative ones like drawing on an iPad app or Facetimeing with Grandma, or physical ones like playing active video games ) don’t have the same impact.
Passive screen time (which includes activities like watching TV, playing video games that don’t require problem solving or physical activity) isn’t great for kids’ behavior or cognitive development, but active screen time (playing educational video games or those that require physical action) is.
As Dr. Juana Willumsen, of the World Health Organization has said, “There is no denying that screens are part of the modern era. It is how we interact that matters.”
Passive screen time is likely to be sedentary time, where as active screen time is, well, active. There is a big difference between a kid sitting in front of the TV for hours and a child dancing along to a Jojo Siwa playlist or playing Wii Sports with mom or dad.
According to the findings, passive TV consumption can adversely affect a child’s composite academic scores, language and math abilities, while passive video game play can inhibit composite scores as well. Many kids watch a lot of TV and play a lot of video games (1.8 to 2.8 hours on average for TV; 40 minutes on average for video games, according to the study’s authors), and this research suggests there may be a benefit to shifting to another form of screen-based play.
“Findings from this study suggest that each screen-based activity should be analyzed individually for its association with academic performance, particularly television viewing and video game playing, which appeared to be the activities most negatively associated with academic outcomes,” the study’s authors write. “Education and public health professionals should consider supervision and reduction to improve the academic performance of children and adolescents exposed to these activities.”
Our take? This research is definitely worth taking into account. Screen time that engages kids with people (like watching a movie with mom or dad, or having a FaceTime call with a family member, for example) may be less harmful than just binge-watching TV, and when it comes to screen time moderation is good.
Some parents allow kids to have screen time here and there for their enjoyment. Same goes for video game playing and that is totally okay! We’re glad experts continue to research how screens impact little brains. This research is worth considering if you’re looking to reevaluate or set up guidelines where screen time is concerned, and if you need any additional clarification about what is right for your individual child, a chat with your pediatrician is the right place to start.
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