Up to six hours of screen time doesn’t harm kids after all

Teenager using an Apple iPad. Shutterstock

Teenager using an Apple iPad. Shutterstock

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Children who spend up to six hours a day playing computer games or watching telly aren't doing themselves any harm after all, according to new research.

Despite parents being told to limit screen time, researchers found there is only a negligibly small association between computer, video and TV use and higher levels of depression and delinquency among teens.

Last year the American Academy of Paediatrics scrapped their two hours a day recommendation as the data on the effects of screens was not clear.

Clinical Psychologist Dr Christopher Ferguson, of Stetson University in America, said: "Data from the current study suggests that children are resilient to screen consumption for up to six hours daily.

"When negative outcomes were noted, these were very small and in general affected males more.

"Screen time is associated with obesity, but only to the extent it interferes with physical activity.

"If recommendations for physical activity are met, screen time, even if considerable, no longer predicts obesity.

"Likewise, evidence suggests that links between screen time and cognitive performance are complex, often relating to quality more than quantity, without clear evidence that screen time exposure relates to test scores."

The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly looked at the 2013 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey of 6,089 kids with an average age of 16 living in Florida.

The team were trying to address gaps in previous literature by examining what levels of screen time were associated with negative outcomes in teenagers and how strong these associations were.

It is estimated that total screen time among youth, including phone use, averages approximately seven to eight hours per day.

The children were asked about their sleeping patterns, physical activity, how often they had meals with their family, if they experienced symptoms of depression and how much screen time they spent watching television or playing video games.

They also noted their grades, whether they participated in delinquent behaviour, risky driving or sexual activities, used illegal substances or suffered any eating disorders.

Time spent in front of a screen only accounted for between 0.49 per cent of the variance in delinquency, 1.7 per cent in depressive symptoms and 1.2 per cent in average grade points.

It did not have an influence on risky driving or risky sex, substance abuse or restrictive eating.

Dr Ferguson says that with screens becoming more embedded into the lives of youngsters, how they use them could be more important that the time they spend on them.

He said: "Although an 'everything in moderation' message when discussing screen time with parents may be most productive, our results do not support a strong focus on screen time as a preventative measure for youth problem behaviours.

"Screen time limits does more to foster guilt in parents unable to meet unrealistic expectations than they do to help children."

He said there is more value in focusing on how media are used than on time consumption alone, as it could for instance foster learning and socialisation.

He added: "Screens of various sorts are increasingly embedded into daily life, whether they involve education, work, socialisation or personal organisation.

"Setting narrow limits on screen time may not keep up with the myriad ways in which screens have become essential to modern life."