Parents may not always see it, but efforts to limit their children’s screen time can make a difference. Kids, even at the preschool level, need to have their screen time managed because the fast-beat music and flashing lights on TVs, mobile devices, or computer screens can cause sleep disturbances. A new study, “Protective Effects of Parental Monitoring of Children’s Media Use,” published online today, March 31, 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics, found that children get more sleep, do better in school, behave better and see other health benefits when parents limit content and the amount of time their children spend on the computer or in front of the TV.
Douglas Gentile, lead author and an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State, says the effect is not immediate and that makes it difficult for parents to recognize, according to a March 31, 2014 news release, ” Limiting screen time yields mulitple benefits, ISU study finds.” As a result, parents may think it is not worth the effort to monitor and limit their children’s media use. But Gentile says they have more power than they realize.
“When parents are involved it has a powerful protective effect across a wide range of different areas that they probably never would have expected to see,” Gentile explains, according to the news release. “However, parents aren’t likely to notice that putting limits on the children’s media is having these effects seven months later.”
Considering that children average more than 40 hours of screen time a week, not counting time spent on a computer at school, even small changes can make a difference, researchers observe, according to the news release. They are not suggesting parents completely eliminate screen time, but find a healthy balance.
The study found there is a ripple effect associated with the benefits of limiting both screen time and media content
Douglas Gentile is not surprised to see a direct impact on sleep, academics and behavior. However, limited screen time also indirectly affects body mass index. The study found that children got more sleep if parents limited screen time, which also resulted in lower risk of obesity. Parents limiting exposure to violent media resulted in increased prosocial behavior and lowered aggressive behavior seven months later.
Researchers analyzed the media habits of more than 1,300 school children who were recruited to participate in an obesity prevention program
Students and parents were surveyed about everything from screen time limits, to violent media exposure, to bedtimes and behavior. Teachers reported grades and commented on student behavior and school nurses measured each student’s height and weight.
Data were collected at the start of the program and seven months later at the end of the program. By looking at these factors collectively with a group of children over a school year, it was easier for researchers to identify patterns that are hard to recognize in individual children.
Do various types of media drive us to look for the absence of a problem?
“As parents, we don’t even see our children get taller and that’s a really noticeable effect. With media, what we’re often looking for is the absence of a problem, such as a child not gaining weight, making it even more difficult to notice,” Gentile says, according to the news release.
“Even with changes that we do notice, we really don’t recognize in the moment how all these things are related to each other across time,” he adds, according to the news release. “Yes, as screen time goes up, school performance goes down, but that doesn’t happen overnight. If I watch a lot of TV today, I don’t get an F in my class tomorrow.”
Doctors can make a difference, too
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time a day for children two years and older. Reality far exceeds those recommendations, which might explain why doctors feel it is futile to talk with parents about guidelines for media use, Gentile says, according to the news release. The study provides further evidence of why pediatricians need to have that conversation.
“Hopefully, this study will give pediatricians a better sense of efficacy that it’s worth taking the time to talk to parents,” Gentile says in the news release. “Even if doctors only influence 10 percent of the parents, that’s still millions of children having much better health outcomes as a result.”
Researchers recommend doctors talk with parents about setting limits and actively monitoring media use
This can include talking with children about media content, explaining the purpose of various media and providing overall guidance. Rachel Reimer, Des Moines University; Amy Nathanson, Ohio State University; David Walsh, Mind Positive Parenting; and Joey Eisenmann, Michigan State University; also contributed to this study.
In our increasingly fast-paced world, the Internet, video games, smartphones and TV programs are continually competing for consumers’ attention. But what are the effects of screen media on infants and young children, when it’s exchanged for the playtime of generations past? Brenda Greenert Judd, an early childhood education specialist at the University of Cincinnati’s Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center, presented her review of the national research on the topic during a 10:45 a.m. session on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at the Early Childhood Education Symposium at The Summit Country Day School.
What parents need to know about managing children’s screen time
Judd says, according to the October 17, 2013 news release, Managing children’s screen time: What parents need to know, “Children, even infants, are engaging in more screen media, and a review of the national literature suggests that by substituting screen media for traditional, creative play, children’s cognitive, physical, social and emotional development can be affected.”
“Parents and educators need to question the skills, brain and language development that is taking place in the early years and decide when and how to introduce screen media into children’s lives,” says Judd in that news release.
Judd cites the world’s leading early childhood theorists in emphasizing that young children gather and process information through physical, social and creative play
Through traditional play that includes running, jumping, building with toys and pretend play, children not only build their physical strength in bones and muscles, but also strengthen their fine motor skills and learn social skills through their interactions with other children.
Judd’s review of screen media research indicates that the saturation of screen media among children – some as young as infancy – can impact speech and movement (fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination), plus the isolation factor of screen media can affect social development.
The fast-paced music and flashing lights of video games can lead to irregular sleeping patterns
Judd says the sedentary factor of screen media has been blamed in part for the nation’s growing obesity epidemic in children. She says the research also has shown that the violent content popular in video games also has led to aggression, fear and anxiety in young children.
Judd says she wants parents to be aware that screen media time needs to be monitored, but adds that some programs or games hold positive value for children. Games that teach skills by drill – repetition – have resulted in positive learning outcomes for some children. For children with special needs, particularly children with autism, Judd says iPads have opened up a world of communication.
Skype and screen games involving physical activity
“Skype has served as a wonderful tool for children keeping in touch with grandparents and other relatives who live far away,” says Judd in the news release. “Some games involving physical activity have indicated some health benefit for children who are inside the home because of the weather, or for other reasons that inhibit playing outside.
“So, there are benefits for children when screen media is used appropriately,” says Judd, according to the news release. “Parents just need to set limits to keep children from being saturated with it. Parents also need to be aware of what their children are watching and whether the program is age-appropriate for their children.”
Is health research behind the progression of technology?
“The research has not kept up with the progression of the technology, so we’re not really sure what young children are gaining through screen media game-based learning, and it could take generations to find that out,” says Judd in the news release.
Judd earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH), as well as a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. She also holds a special education license endorsement. As an early childhood education specialist at UC’s Arlitt Center, she teaches the center’s preschool-age children and serves as a mentor to UC’s students who are aspiring to become future teachers.
The free and open to the public sixth-annual Early Childhood Education Symposium at The Summit Country Day School was themed “Parenting Matters” and featured national, regional and local experts in childhood learning, health and wellness. For more information, check out the Early Childhood Education Symposium index website. Or see the school site for information about the Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center.
Screen time and children with asthma
You also may be interested in news about a study of screen time and children with asthma. See the February 4, 2009 news release, “New study raises concerns about screen time among urban children with asthma.” That study observed Urban children with asthma engage in an average of an hour more of screen time daily than the maximum amount American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends. The study examined screen time among children with asthma. The study revealed that those with asthma may be more vulnerable to negative effects of excessive TV watching.
The study did not have a control group of children without asthma. Children with asthma most likely watch a similar amount of screen time to all children, but children with asthma are more at risk for the health problems associated with too much screen time.
Kids ages 3 to 10 average about two to four hours of viewing screen time daily, according to the study
In the study, children included were between 3- and 10-years-old. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, on average children in this age range watch between two and four hours of screen time daily. So, while they may not spend more time on screens than children without asthma, the lost opportunities for physical and mental engagement may be even more detrimental to these vulnerable children.
That study’s lead author of the study suggests that parents of children with asthma can encourage a variety of alternate activities for their child, including reading, drawing and arts and crafts, or playing board games or puzzles. In addition, if a child is experiencing limitation of activity due to their asthma, parents should speak with their child’s medical provider about ways to improve their asthma control. Many areas have organizations that were created to provide resources and support for families of children with asthma.