Children who use smartphones and other devices in their free time for fewer than two hours a day performed better on cognitive tests assessing their thinking, language, and memory, according to a study published Wednesday in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Using screen devices for fun activities such as playing games or watching videos was referred to as recreational screen use.
The study included about 4,500 U.S. children ages 8 to 11 and measured their habits against the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth.
Overall, findings indicated that United States children enjoy an average of 3.6 hours of screen time a day while just over half meet the recommended amount of sleep. More research into the links between screen time and cognition is now needed, including studying the effect of different types of screen time, whether content is educational or entertainment, and whether it requires focus or involves multitasking.
The strongest link was between meeting...
"Behaviours and day-to-day activities contribute to brain and cognitive development in children, and physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep might independently and collectively affect cognition", said Jeremy Walsh, of CHEO Research Institute in Canada.
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Dr Walsh added: "Based on our findings, paediatricians, parents, educators, and policymakers should promote limiting recreational screen time and prioritising healthy sleep routines throughout childhood and adolescence".
But scientists in Canada found only one in 20 of the 4,520 USA children studied were meeting all of these key recommendations.
They said the extra rest from screens aided brain function and additional outdoors activity also improved the children's physical health.
"Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities". However, the lack of exercise didn't affect the performance of the children in the cognition tests.
"I think that the overarching goal here is that parents should consider the whole 24-hour day of their children and put realistic rules or limits in place for how long they are on their screens for, having bedtime rules, and making sure to encourage physical activity", Walsh said. The questionnaires were only used at the outset of the study, and so do not track how behaviours changed over time so future cycles of the study will need to be analysed to understand trends over time. On average, the kids in the study spent 3.6 hours a day engaged in screen time.