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Here’s how screen time is affecting your child

According to a 2019 study, only time spent watching television and playing passive video games affected children’s academic performance, rather than screen time in general

In this Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 photo, Frankie Thevenot, 3, plays with an iPad in his bedroom at his home in Metairie, La. About 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds (and 10 percent of kids younger than that) have used a smartphone, tablet or video iPod, according to a new study by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media.
Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

Maybe your child is constantly engrossed in technology. Maybe you’re beginning to worry how certain media might be affecting their development, both socially and academically.

Your worries are most likely not dissipating, according to a new review of past studies.

According to a 2019 review of 58 studies from 23 countries, published in JAMA Pediatrics, children and adolescents spend an average of 1.8 to 2.8 hours a day watching television, 34 minutes a day using a computer and 40 minutes a day playing video games.

As a part of the new review, researchers included findings from a 2006 study published in the Journal of Adolescence that found sedentary behaviors to be one of the greatest risk factors in mortality.

The review found that only time spent watching television and playing passive video games affected children’s academic performance, rather than screen time in general.

“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 said. “Education and public health professionals should consider supervision and reduction to improve the academic performance of children and adolescents exposed to these activities.”

Screen media use could play a key role in cognition and academic performance in children and adolescents, but it has also been shown to reduce functional connectivity between cognitive areas, according to the study.

Pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky, who was not involved in the study, commented in an interview with CNN that while the study’s findings might change people’s perspectives on the use of screen media, it has the major limitation of examining studies as far back as the early 1980s, even though the digital world has changed considerably since then.

“Kids are immersed in digital media throughout the day now, and we need better measurement tools — like apps that track what kids are doing on their device — to truly measure children’s interactions with, and reactions to, technology,” she said.

Radesky also commented that, in alignment with the study’s findings, active video games can improve children’s connectedness and development, especially socially.

“Both TV and video games can have a social component — when you play or watch with someone else — and this can be a positive way that family members or peers engage with each other — especially if it is intellectually stimulating content or has positive social messages,” she said.

Bethany Koby, CEO and co-founder of Tech Will Save Us, said in an article for The School Run that interactive games, such as Minecraft, are great for helping children interact and engage with what they’re viewing

“There’s a lot of really wonderful educational content online that encourages children to participate rather than just being a passive observer,” she said. “Many games and apps have been designed specifically to encourage thinking and questioning.”

Koby also noted that children’s use of computers can help them develop research skills that are essential for their learning.

“Learning how to use search engines effectively is a valuable skill, teaching children to explore and navigate online, analyze the reliability of what they find and get deeper into the subject they’re researching,” she said.

Finally, Koby stated that channelling children into activities where they’re engaging and creating, rather than passively observing, is one of the key components to making screen time effective and positive.

“Screen time is just another one of those moments in life where you can engage with your child and find out what they’re exploring and learning,” she said.