Too many screenings for too long could be linked to mental health symptoms in children, according to a new Canadian study. After examining children who played video games, watched television, and engaged in e-learning, the researchers concluded that less could be more when he comes to virtual entertainment.
But what kind of digital disport could be harmful, and how long should children stay on screens? Asking questions about screen time and researching ways to navigate an electronics-focused childhood could be the first step in shaping future policies to ensure children lead healthy lifestyles while using devices. screens, according to the study published Dec. 28 in the JAMA Network Open.
“Understanding the association of different types of screen use with child and youth mental health can help inform the development of policies and interventions to promote healthy screen use and children’s mental health.” and young people during the pandemic and beyond, ”the study said.
He also looked at whether different types of screen use had different impacts on children’s mental health, including television, video games, e-learning, and video chat.
The study involved 2,026 children and included four different groups, or cohorts, from which to draw results.
The Applied Research Group for Children was a practice-oriented primary care research network for children 0-5 years old. The population-based sample looked for children aged 6 to 18 who were recruited at the Ontario Science Center. The outpatient assessment research looked at children ages 6 to 8 for mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. The latest cohort was from the Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders Network, which sampled children in outpatient care with neurodevelopmental disorders.
The researchers also considered the parents’ race, socioeconomic status, gender, and mental health as factors in the study.
Parents reported children’s daily television and digital media time, engagement in video games, and hours of e-learning and video chatting. Parents also reported Child and Adolescent Mental Health Symptom Scales, and the study concluded that the primary outcomes across all four cohorts were depression and anxiety.
“The secondary outcomes were driving problems, irritability, hyperactivity and inattention,” the study adds.
In the cohort of younger children, the study found that for each additional hour per day that children watched television or digital media were associated with a higher score of irritability, hyperactivity and inattention.
In older children, the study reported that time spent watching television or digital media per day was associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Higher levels of video game time were also associated with higher depression symptoms, although there was insufficient evidence to link higher video game time to irritability, l inattention and hyperactivity.
Rates of depression were higher among children who spent more time learning online and video chatting on a daily basis.
“This cohort study confirms high levels of screen use among Canadian children and youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, with levels above recommendations,” the study found. “Additionally, our study demonstrated that greater use of screens was associated with higher levels of mental health symptoms in children and youth during the pandemic, consistent with evidence from the pre-COVID literature. “
So how much screen time is too much screen time?
The study refers to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society, which recommend that children and adolescents spend no more than one to two hours per day in front of a screen. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers a series of standards that parents should define if they are wondering how much screen time to allow in the household, or want to develop a plan:
- Up to 18 months, limit screen use to video chatting with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
- Between 18 and 24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational shows with a caregiver.
- For ages 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about one hour per weekday and three hours on weekends.
- For ages 6 and up, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
- Turn off all screens during meals and family outings.
- Discover and use parental controls.
- Avoid using screens as pacifiers, babysitters, or to stop temper tantrums.
- Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.
Other problems can come from too long screen time aside from depression and anxiety, according to previous studies. One study looked at more than 11,000 American children and found that those who used phones, tablets, or watched TV for long periods of time were over susceptible to developing eating disorders.
Another study found that online learning can strain children’s eyes and cause permanent damage in the future, adding to research on the physical and mental health of children in the modern age of screens.
“Our findings may help inform public health guidelines that consider different forms of screen use in preventing mental health disorders in children and youth during the pandemic,” the recent Canadian study said. “With the support of policymakers, schools and teachers, families and healthcare professionals, children and youth will be in a better position to reduce screen use and promote mental health during the pandemic and beyond. “