Study links restricting screens to higher mental performance

Additional Information

By  Hamza Shaban     September 27, 2018  Parents  who possess the resolve to separate their children from their  smartphones may be helping their kids' brainpower, a new study suggests.

Children  who use smartphones and other devices in their free time for less than  two hours a day performed better on cognitive tests assessing their  thinking, language and memory, according to a study published Wednesday  in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. The  study assessed the behavior of 4,500 children, ages 8 to 11, by looking  at their sleep schedules, how much time they spent on screens and their  amount of exercise, and analyzed how those factors affected the  children’s mental abilities. The researchers  compared the results with national guidelines for children’s health. The  guidelines recommend that children in that age group get at least an  hour of physical activity and no more than two hours of recreational  screen time a day and nine to 11 hours of sleep each night.

The  researchers found that only five percent of children met all three  recommendations. Sixty-three percent of children spent more than two  hours a day staring at screens, failing to meet the screen-time limit. Children  who did not meet all three criteria performed worse on thinking,  language and memory tests than kids who met the recommendations,  according to the study. But reduced screen time was positively linked to  superior mental performance, the study found.

“We  need to pay attention to how long we are on the screens for,” said  Jeremy Walsh, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British  Columbia and the lead author of the study. “This study is showing that  less than two hours of recreational screen time is beneficial for  children.” “These findings highlight the  importance of limiting recreational screen time and encouraging healthy  sleep to improve cognition in children,” the study’s authors wrote.

The findings arrive as technology companies take steps to address worries over increased use of devices such as mobile phones.  In recent months, parents, consumers and technologists have called for  more discussion about young people and tech addiction and whether use of  such devices could harm childhood development. Apple recently released  advanced parental controls and unveiled a new control system that lets  users monitor how much they’re using their iPhones. Google has also  introduced new features to limit screen time and monitor use on Android  devices.

While the observational study showed  an association between reduced screen time and children’s higher mental  performance, it did not establish a causal link, according to the BBC.  The study’s authors said more research is needed to probe the links  between screen time and cognition, including differentiating among the  types of screen activities and what effects each has on children.

The  study drew from data that’s part of a larger, long-term research  project on brain development and child health in the United States. The  National Institutes of Health has funded researchers to track the  biological and behavioral development of children through adolescence,  showing how childhood experiences such as sports, sleep patterns, social  media and video games influence a young person’s life.