Based on data for more than 3600 children in eight
European countries, researchers found that family functioning and
emotional well-being were especially linked to changes in the amount
of time kids spent in front of screens.
The study's lead author said they can't say what factors may be
behind the associations. "We really need to do a little bit more
digging in this area before we can answer some of the basic
questions," Trina Hinkley told Reuters Health.
Hinkley is a research fellow at the Center for Physical Activity and
Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Melbourne.
Several recent studies have highlighted the possible negative
effects of kids spending too much time watching televisions, playing
video games and working on computers.
Specifically, screen time has been linked to differences among
children in weight and sleep quality (see Reuters Health stories of
March 17, 2014 here: http://reut.rs/1ifw3F2 and March 12, 2014 here:
Late last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also urged
parents to keep tabs on their children's media use and limit screen
time to no more than one to two hours of high quality programming
(see Reuters Health story of October 28, 2014 here:
For the new study, researchers from the Identification and
Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in
Children and Infants Consortium analyzed data on kids who were
between two and six years of age when they entered the study between
September 2007 and June 2008.
At that time, the parents completed questionnaires about their
children's media use and well-being — including the child's emotional
and peer problems, self-esteem and family and social functioning.
Parents answered another questionnaire two years later.
Overall, the researchers found that for social and peer-related
measures, screen time had no effect. But for each additional hour or
so of screen time parents reported, a child's risk of emotional and
family problems rose up to twofold.
"We found that family functioning and emotional problems did seem to
have some association with electronic media, but the others didn't
show any association at all," Hinkley said.
[to top of second column]
Linda Pagani, who was not involved in the new study but has
researched screen time among children, cautioned that there may be
other explanations behind some of the results. "It could be that
families who used screen time more were families who weren't
functioning that well to begin with," she said.
Pagani is psychologist and senior researcher at Saint-Justine's
Hospital Research Center at the University of Montreal in Canada.
She also cautioned that the results are based on the parents'
reports, which are subject to inaccuracies.
Despite the study's limitations, however, Pagani said there are
several drawbacks to letting children have a lot of screen time,
including sleep disturbances and lost face-to-face communication
"My message is, the brain is very dependent on human social
interaction and this excessive screen time on a computer or
television may be at the detriment of time for other people," she
She also endorsed the two-hour rule set by the AAP, but cautioned
that sscreen time shouldn't be right before bed. "As a clinician, as
a parent and a psychologist, use that two-hour rule, but make sure
those two hours don't occur right before bed, because they're losing
precious sleep time," she said.
JAMA Pediatrics, online March 17, 2014.
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