Reducing screen time boosts children's brains

A new study suggests children who use smartphones and other electronic devices for more than two hours each day show poorer results on cognitive tests than those who use spend less time on screens

More than two hours screentime a day could damage children’s brain development

According to a study led by Jeremy Walsh, a researcher at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, one in 20 kids from the USA meets the guidelines on sleep, screen time and exercise.

The researchers examined how meeting recommendations for 9-11 hours of sleep, less than two hours of recreational screen time, and at least an hour of physical activity every day affected children's cognition.

They said the extra rest from screens aided brain function and additional outdoors activity also improved the children's physical health.

The children also completed a cognition test, assessing language abilities, memory, attention, working memory and processing speed. But as the researchers noted, the more individual recommendations the child met, the better their cognition.

"Behaviours and day-to-day activities contribute to brain and cognitive development in children, and physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep might independently and collectively affect cognition", says Dr Jeremy Walsh, CHEO Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada.

Almost 30 per cent of children failed to meet any of the recommendations, more than 40 per cent met only one, a quarter met two, and only five per cent conformed to all three.

Taken individually, limited screen time and improved sleep were associated with the strongest links to improved cognition, while physical activity may be more important for physical health.

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"Only 5 percent of our sample met all three guidelines", Walsh said.

"They stand to benefit the most because they are not receiving any of the benefits from meeting these guidelines", said Walsh.

And it did not look at how children were using their screen time, be it to watch television, play videogames or use social media. She was not involved in the study.

Limitations of the study included the fact that the data was self-reported, as well as only having questionnaires at the beginning of the study.

"Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep". The organization suggests setting guidelines, knowing who your child is talking to, knowing what they are doing, encouraging physical playtime and creating "tech-free zones", such as bedrooms.

However, it has not yet been proven whether or not poor cognitive development is down to online activity itself or the time spent using electronic devices instead of exercising or sleeping.

Limiting recreational screen time to less than two hours a day improves cognitive development in kids.

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