Parents should be concerned about quality of screen time, not quantity, scientists say

Research suggests television and video games negatively impact academic performance

Sarah Young
Tuesday 24 September 2019 08:25
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Spending hours watching television or playing video games could negatively impact how well children do at school, new research suggests.

The study, conducted by the University Jaume I in Castellon, Spain, analysed the habits of nearly half a million children across the globe.

The findings showed that it is not necessarily the amount of the screen time, but the quality of the screen time that affects academic performance.

Researchers reviewed 58 existing studies from 23 countries involving 480,000 youngsters under the age of 18.

The team also pooled data from 30 of those studies, including 106,000 participants, which compared screen media use and academic performance.

Academic performance was measured by analysing the participants’ language, mathematics ability and composite scores.

A composite score was defined as an average of four test scores in English, mathematics, reading, and science, ranging from one to 36.

For the purpose of the study, screen time included surfing the internet, mobile phone use, television viewing and video game playing.

According to the findings, general time spent on screens, including mobile phones, did not negatively impact academic performance.

However, time spent specifically on video games was linked to lower composite scores, while television individually appeared to negatively affect language and mathematics skills.

The researchers also suggested that these screen-based activities had a greater effect on adolescents than children.

Dr Mireia Adelantado-Renau, lead author of the study, said that excessive television viewing time among children “has been shown to decrease attention and cognitive functioning and to increase behavioural problems and unhealthy eating habits.

Adelantado-Renau added that the research was important “given the increasing time spent on screen-based activities among children and adolescents” and suggested that education and public health professionals should “consider supervision and reduction to improve the academic performance of children and adolescents exposed to these activities”.

Earlier this year, the UK's medical officers said mobile phones should be banned from the dinner table and bedtimes.

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Dame Sally Davies said that while time spent online can be of “great benefit to young people”, parents should take a “precautionary approach” to ensure their children are protected.

This follows guidelines for paediatricians which said problems with smartphones and social media occur when they interfere with children’s sleep, wellbeing or family time.

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