Attention, parents: You may be doing screen time limits all wrong

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Time in front of screens - TV, video games, smartphones - hurts kids' performance at school, right?

Not necessarily.

Some screen time is worse than others when it comes to kids and academic performance, according to a new analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics, a respected medical journal.

Television viewing, followed by video games, were the two activities most tied to poor school performance, researchers showed in a review of 58 studies published over the decades.

That kind of screen time affected both children and teens - though overall, teens' performance seemed to suffer the most as screen time increased.

Other screen time, like playing on phones or surfing the internet, didn't yield any clear indication that they were wrecking kids' achievement.

That means parents should set limits for individual activities, especially TV and video games.

"It's increasingly clear that it may be time to move past 'screen time' as a useful term," said Michael Robb, senior director of research for Common Sense, a nonprofit that makes entertainment and technology recommendations for families and schools.

Screen time "doesn't capture the many different ways that different kids use media and affect them in different ways," Robb said. "We should be doing more to look at what screen time is comprised of -- what shows kids are watching, what games they're playing, what they're doing online -- and how media and tech are being used."

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Researchers across the country are trying to figure out whether a digitally addicted culture, particularly among kids, spells trouble for the future.

There's no doubt about screen addiction. Pew Research CentreĀ found last year that 95 per cent of teenagers have a smartphone or access to one, and 45 per cent say they are near-constantly online. In fact, many are digitally tethered nearly around the clock.

Nearly 4 in 10 children keep their mobile phones within reach of their bed, according to a survey published in May by Common Sense. They are twice as likely as their parents to have their phone actually in bed with them, with girls outpacing boys 33 per cent to 26 per cent.

This new analysis is important because it separates out the screens most closely associated with leisure time - TV and video games - as opposed to those that can be used in conjunction with school work, said Victor Fornari, vice chairman of the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry department at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York.

"We are raising a population of overweight and obese youth," Fornani told USA TODAY. He said the bottom-line result of the study is about keeping an eye on your kids.

"Parents always have to monitor kids and how much game playing they have," Fornari said. "Parents have to do more. They have to be very involved with what kids are doing on their screen time."

USA Today