Children Who Get Less Screen Time Think Better, Study Finds

Posted October 02, 2018

A new study says that parents should limit the recreational screentime of children to two hours a day to improve their cognition.

FMI: An abstract of the study and editorial can be found on the website for the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, but the full papers are being a paywall.

A new study found that the average American child spends 3.6 hours a day watching TV, using a computer, or looking at their phone or tablet.

The children and their parents completed questionnaires and different measures to estimate physical activity, sleep and screen time. Children who spent under two hours on screens scored, on average, about 4 percent higher on thinking-related tests than the kids who didn't meet any of the screen, exercise, or sleep guidelines.

According to the findings, getting enough sleep is also key.

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The 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommend at least an hour of physical activity on a daily basis, two hours or less of recreational screen time per day, and nine to 11 hours of sleep each night in children aged eight to 11 years.

"Behaviours and day-to-day activities contribute to brain and cognitive development in children, and physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep might independently and collectively affect cognition", said Jeremy Walsh, of CHEO Research Institute in Canada.

Researchers kept in mind other factors that may have influenced the results such as the net household income, race and ethnicity, the body max index and other useful indicators, but they can not claim that the study is completely accurate. The relationship between recreational screen time and cognitive development has historically been less clear, and this type of research is in early stages, he said. It might not come as a surprise that researchers found almost two out of every three US kids spend more than two hours a day looking at devices. The three areas of most importance to the researchers were screen time, sleep, and physical activity.

Nearly one in three children (29% - 1,330/4,520) met none of the guidelines, 41% (1,845/4,520) met only one, 25% (1,129/4,520) met two, and 5% (216/4,520) met all three recommendations.

Although there is substantial evidence for the association between physical activity and cognitive development, in this study meeting the physical activity recommendation alone showed no association with cognition. "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". Notably, more studies are required to confirm if and how exactly too much screen time can hurt children's cognition.

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