Limiting children’s screen time linked to better cognition, study says

29 September, 2018, 02:44 | Author: Kara Nash
  • A poll conducted for Common Sense Media a nonprofit focused on helping children parents teachers and policymakers negotiate media and technology explores families and technology addiction

Nearly 30% of the children didn't meet the recommendations, more than 40% met one, a quarter met two, and only 5% of the children met all three guidelines.

Children aged eight to 11 who used screens for fun for less than two hours a day performed better in tests of mental ability, a study found.

Writing in a linked comment, Dr Eduardo Esteban Bustamante, University of IL, said: "Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities".

It found that 51 percent of the children got the recommended nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, 37 percent met the recreational screen time limit of two hours or less per day, while 18 percent met the physical activity recommendation of at least 60 minutes of accumulated physical activity a day.

In his commentary, Dr. Bustamante likens the problem of screen time to the challenge of the childhood obesity epidemic, and said that both have been propagated by their profitability to industry, convenience to parents, and pleasure for children.

However, only one in 20 U.S. children in the study met the three recommendations advised by the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines to ensure good cognitive development. Children also completed a cognition test, which assessed language abilities, episodic memory, executive function, attention, working memory and processing speed.


"Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities". This was surprising, according to the authors, and it may suggest that the physical activity measure may not have been specific enough. They note that physical activity remains the most important behaviour for physical health outcomes, and there is no indication that it negatively affects cognition.

"The link between sedentary behaviours, like recreational screen time, is unclear as this research is in the early stages and it appears to vary depending on the types of screen-based activity".

"Based on our findings, paediatricians, parents, educators and policymakers should promote limiting recreation screen time and prioritising healthy sleep routines during childhood and adolescence".

Study leader Dr Jeremy Walsh, of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, said: 'More than two hours of recreational screen time in children was associated with poorer cognitive development'.

And of course, the study was an observational one which meant a causal relationship could not be established. On average, the kids in the study spent 3.6 hours a day engaged in screen time. Google has also introduced new features to limit screen time and monitor use on Android devices.

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