An Australian led study has found a link between electronics and children's mental health.
The study, which involved more than 3000 children aged 2 to 6, found electronic media use like watching television, using computers and playing electronic games contributes to poorer mental well-being.
Study author, Dr Trina Hinkley, of Deakin University, said researchers asked children to complete questionnaires measuring 6 indicators of mental well-being including emotional and peer problems, self-esteem, family functioning and social networks.
“We looked at how children are able to function within their family and social settings, if they are easily upset, clingy, feel pleased with or proud of themselves, how well the family functions, and how well they interact with their peers," she said.
The risk of emotional problems and poorer family functioning increased with each additional hour of TV, gaming and computer use.
While the study focused on children aged 2 to 6, Professor Tim Olds from the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia said electronic media use is probably more damaging to older age groups as cumulative exposure increases and monitoring a child’s use becomes more difficult.
“There are indications that screen time peaks around 13 or 14”, he said.
Professor Olds said the negative outcomes shown in the study may be a result of a mixture of the replacement of real face to face contact with virtual contact, displacement of physical activity and sleep, and worse dietary habits when watching TV.
Dr Hinkley said even educational video games might be harmful.
“There is currently no evidence that any form of electronic media is beneficial to young children”, she said.
“This includes any product marked as educational”.
The Department of Health recommends children aged 0 to 2 years not use electronic media at all, and says children aged from 2 to 5 years should use no more than 1 hour per day.
School aged should spend no more than 2 hour a day using electronic media for recreation.
Dr Hinkley said parents should aim to expose their young children to electronic media as little as possible.
“It is really important for children's health, growth and development that electronic media use is minimised as much as possible," she said.
“Some simple ideas include having a grab bag of special toys that only come out at those times parents most need a break”.
“This can be used instead of electronic media when parents are occupied with other tasks, such as preparing dinner.”
The study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Paediatrics.