10 mom groups: find the one that’s right for you

If you’ve internalized some parental guilt about using your own child’s screen time, you’re not alone. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to significant amounts of screen time in children leads to an increased risk of depression and behavior problems, poor sleep and obesity, among other results. Knowing all of this can mean you swallow a big mouthful of guilt every time you unlock the iPad or turn on the TV for your kid.

But is screen time really that bad? New research may not say. A study published in September 2021 of 12,000 9- and 10-year-olds found that even when school-aged children spend up to 5 hours a day on screens (watching TV, texting, or playing games video), it does not appear to be so harmful to their mental health.

Researchers have found no association between the use of screens and depression or anxiety in children this age.

In fact, kids who had more access to screen time tended to have more friends and stronger relationships with their peers, likely thanks to the social nature of video games, social media, and texting.

Correlations between screen time and children’s health

But with these great social benefits come a caveat. The researchers also noted that children who used screens more frequently were actually more likely to have attention problems, disrupted sleep, poorer school performance, and were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.

Without a randomized controlled trial, it is difficult to determine these effects as being directly caused by screens. The study authors analyzed data from a national study known as the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study), the largest long-term study of brain development and children’s health in the world. country. They relied on self-reported screen time levels by children and adults (it is funny to note that these reported numbers differed slightly depending on the respondent…).

It is important to remember that these results are only correlations, not causalities. “We can’t say that screen time causes the symptoms; instead, the most aggressive children may be given screen devices to try to distract them and calm their behavior, ”says Katie Paulich, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the department. of psychology and neuroscience. It should also be noted that a child’s socio-economic status has a 2.5 times greater impact on behavior than screens.

Weighing the benefits with the risks will be up to you as the parent, who knows your child best. And because we live in a digital world, screens are here to stay, which means parents often have little choice. It is impossible to tell whether recreational screen time is entirely “good” or “bad” for children. It may be both.

“When we look at the strength of the correlations, we only see very modest associations,” says Paulich. “That is, any association between screen time and different outcomes, whether good or bad, is so small that it is unlikely to be clinically significant.” It’s all part of the bigger picture.

A New Look at Teen Screen Time

Researchers cite a lack of studies examining the relationship between screen time and health outcomes in this specific age group of early adolescence, which is one reason why this study is so revolutionary. The results do not apply to young children or older adolescents, who may begin to go through puberty.

Screen time guidelines exist for toddlers through to older children, but up to an hour and a half a day seems unattainable for many young teens, who often have their own smartphones and laptops, or at least regular access to one.

Of course, more research is needed, but this is where this study can come in handy. The ABCD study will follow the 12,000 participants for another 10 years, with annual follow-up. It will be interesting to see how the results evolve over time: Will depression and anxiety resulting from screen time be more prevalent as children get older? We will have to wait and see.

The bottom line? Parents should always be the gatekeepers of their child’s screen time in terms of access and age appropriateness, but “our early research suggests that screen time is unlikely. to have disastrous consequences, ”says Paulich.

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