February 19, 2019

Too much screen time, too little horseplay for kids

02 October 2018, 12:30 | Randall Craig

Child with phone. Source

Child with phone

The research says that children aged eight to 11 spent 3.6 hours a day glued to a TV, mobile phone, tablet or computer screen, almost double the suggested limit of two hours.

In the study, data was analysed from 4,520 children from 20 sites across the US.

The study was published last week in the journal "The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health".

Walsh and his team looked at data - based on detailed questionnaires - for 4,520 children spread across 20 locations in the United States. Of the children in the study, 51% met the sleep benchmark, 37% exceeded the screen time limit, and 18% surpassed the activity expectation.

The study associates kids who met the guidelines - which include 9 to 11 hours of sleep, at least one hour of physical activity, and less than two hours on screens - with improvements in cognition.

Walsh said behaviors and day-to-day activities contribute to brain and cognitive development in children, and physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep might independently and collectively affect cognition. Almost 30 percent of the children didn't meet any of the recommended guidelines, just over 40 percent met one, and 25 percent met two. The test found that exceeding the recommended amount of screen time had the largest impact on cognitive ability.

As it turns out, kids who capped recreational screen time (i.e., screen time not related to schoolwork) at 120 minutes scored better on language ability, episodic memory, executive function, attention, working memory and processing speed. That included how much time they spent exercising, sleeping and watching screens on an average day.

Surprisingly, meeting only the physical activity recommendation was not associated with higher scores on the cognitive tests. "It is tempting to take solace in findings that cognitively challenging screen activities can benefit cognition, but, if given a choice, most children already consistently and predictably choose more stimulating screen activities over less stimulating ones". Some researchers argue children need more screen time, social media platforms, however, feel exiling young users is beneficial for them and even tech icons like Bill Gates have come forward to admit he doesn't let his kids use phones.

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Eduardo Esteban Bustamante, University of Illinois, USA, says: "Through a stress-adaptation lens, the strong associations between global cognition and meeting the recreational screen time recommendation found by Walsh and colleagues potentially reflect the interruption of the stress-recovery cycle necessary for growth in children who do not meet the recommendation". It should also be noted that Canada is the first country that proposed limits for time spent in front of a backlit screen.

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