Recent research shows that screen time actually results in lower mental health for children.
A new study by researchers at San Diego State University, demonstrates that more than just one hour of screen time for children, ages 2 to 17 years old, is correlated to “lower psychological well-being”.
Published in Preventive Medicine Reports, the study measured screen time as a combination of all screen exposure — from TV to computers to cell phones. Researchers drew data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). This survey collected information from the parents or caregivers of about 40,000 children. (Data from children with developmental delays, disabilities, or autism were excluded from the dataset as these conditions often already affect mental health and well-being.)
The study found that as screen time increased past one hour, children suffered worsening psychological health.
Amount of Screen Time Increases by Age
Not surprisingly, it was found that the older children get, the more screen time they consume. The average from ages 2 to 17 was 3.2 hours each day. But average screen time among older children was much higher at 4.5 hours per day.
This jump in usage was most noticeable as children went from elementary school into middle school. And many adolescents were found to consume upwards of 7 hours per day.
More Screen Time is Associated with Poor Psychological Health
Adolescents with the highest screen time consumption (7 or more hours each day) were twice as likely to experience low well-being, when compared to adolescents who consumed one hour or less.
When compared to low users, high users were 95% less likely to be calm, curious, or task-focused — and experienced significantly more arguments with parents or caregivers. They were also twice as likely to have received a depression or anxiety diagnosis. These children were more likely to be on medication for a mental health issue and to have been seen by a mental health professional.
Moderate adolescent users (at 4 hours of screen time per day) were 60-78% less likely to be calm, curious, or task focused, when compared to those with low screen time consumption.
Overall, the researchers found that higher amounts of screen time for children were associated with:
- Difficulty with friendships
- Less curiosity
- More distractibility
- Less emotional steadiness
- Less ability to complete tasks
- Increased arguing with parents or caregivers
It should be said that researchers cannot determine if high amounts of screen time result in poor psychological health — or vice-versa. However, this new information may be alarming to many parents because screen time far exceeds one hour of consumption in many households.
What Parents Can Do
This study demonstrates that there is an association between high screen time consumption and poor psychological health. Parents must understand that screen time is just one factor in their children’s well-being — but it is becoming increasingly important.
Setting specific consumption limits can be a useful tool for parents, but limits alone will not guide children as they grow into adolescents. Children should be encouraged to set their own limits so that they can eventually govern their own usage.
Children learn by modeling after their parents — so it is important for parents to develop their own internal screen time regulations. Beyond that, parents can bolster their children’s curiosity and self-awareness by encouraging them to examine their own usage. Schedule an appointment with Familyfirst Medical Group for an Annual Wellness Visit today!