What is the research on screen time for children?

There continue to be conflicting views about the recommendations to give to children on screen time (the use of “screen” media including television, smart phones and computer games). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended two hours or less screen time per day for most children. Two recently published studies investigate this recommendation and whether the amount of screen time has any impact on children’s behaviour and school readiness.

The first study, published  in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, examines whether screen time that exceeds the AAP recommendations affects children’s school readiness, and specifically whether this varies according to family income.

Andrew Ribner and colleagues looked at data from 807 kindergarten (Year 1) children of diverse backgrounds. Their parents reported family income, as well as the number of hours of television their children watch on a daily basis. Video game, tablet and smartphone use were not included. The children were assessed using measures of maths, knowledge of letters and words and executive function. Results showed that watching more television than recommended by the AAP is negatively associated with maths and executive function, but not with letter and word knowledge. This association was found to increase as family income decreased.

For older children, screen time may not be strongly associated with any behaviour problems. Research published in Psychiatric Quarterly investigated the links between the amount of screen time and risky behavioural outcomes for 6,089 young people aged 12–18 from Florida.

The sample was divided into four groups: abstainers (those who reported spending no time watching television or using other media); low users (no more than two hours of screen time per day, in line with AAP guidance); moderate users (three to six hours per day); and excessive users (six or more hours per day). Christopher J Fergusson, who conducted the study, found that moderate screen use was not associated with any risky behaviour. Even excessive screen use was only weakly associated with negative outcomes related to delinquency, reduced grades and depression only and at levels unlikely to be significant.

Source: Family socioeconomic status moderates associations between television viewing and school readiness skills (April 2017), Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics (38:3)

Everything in moderation: moderate use of screens unassociated with child behavior problems (February 2017), Psychiatric Quarterly.