Every parent knows that their child's digital habits can both help and hinder their development. After all, the benefits and drawbacks of technology have been documented in dozens of studies over the years. It's a lot to weigh as a mom, and now there's more to add to the pile: New research has shown that cutting back on your kid's screen time may improve their performance in school. Although this is handy information to have, for many parents like myself, limiting your child's tech use is far easier said than done when you're actually parenting.
First, the data: A new observational study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health last week has suggested a link between improved cognition and a decrease in tech use, according to USA Today. In particular, Canadian researchers examined data from a broader National Institutes of Health study focused on 4,500 children ages 8 to 11 years old, and compared their digital habits, sleeping patterns, and physical activity levels against the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology's 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, as USA Today reported.
The CSEP guidelines dictate that kids receive between 9 and 11 hours of sleep, have less than two hours of screen time, and spend at least one hour being active physically on a daily basis.
And what the researchers discovered is that more than half of the children in the NIH study received the recommended amount of sleep, more than a third spent less than two hours on screen time, and less than a quarter were physically active for at least 60 minutes a day, according to CNN. Only 5 percent — or 1 in 20 children — met all of the CSEP guidelines, though. (The Canadian guidelines are similar to those put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends setting screen time limits.)
Conversely, one in three — or 30 percent — of the young participants met none of the recommendations, the study's findings showed. And those children who failed to meet the guidelines showed poorer cognition skills, which hinders their academic performance, according to the researchers.
Lead study author Jeremy Walsh, who works for the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, said in a statement, according to Science Daily:
Evidence suggests that good sleep and physical activity are associated with improved academic performance, while physical activity is also linked to better reaction time, attention, memory, and inhibition.
This, of course, isn't the first time researchers have suggested that excessive tech use — whether it's their own or their parent's — can harm a child's development. A 2010 Pediatrics study, for example, found that kids who play video games and watch television are more likely to have issues with concentration. And a 2015 Boston University School of Medicine study claimed that kids who are given smartphones or tablets as a way to calm down may have poor impulse control later on in life.
But technology also has its benefits. It's made learning more accessible to students with disabilities. It helps children with autism become more at ease in social settings. And integrating technology in education can create a more engaged and collaborative environment, according to Walden University. The Canadian researchers, for what it's worth, didn't take into account the type of screen time content, whether it was educational or entertainment.
In the end, the issue isn't about technology's pros and cons as much as it's about one's digital habits overall. Work-from-home parents like myself use technology to help our children learn and grow while our attention is pulled elsewhere, so cutting down on screen time is not as feasible as The Lancet study suggests. But this information does, at least, help inform a parent's decision on how they may change their family's screen habits in the future.