Yet Another Reason to Limit Screen Time for Kids

Most people know that too much screen time can impact kids' physical health, but new research suggests that it may have psychological implications as well.

Children who spend more than two hours a day watching TV or playing computer games have a substantially higher risk for developing psychological problems, regardless of their physical activity levels, a new study suggests.

Analysis from the PEACH project showed that physically active children who spent at least two hours a day in front of a screen appeared to fare better than their sedentary peers in emotional and peer problems; however, they did worse in behavioral areas, including hyperactivity, according to findings published in a Pediatrics Digest Summary.

For the study, researchers collected data from more than 1,000 children ages 10 and 11 years, specifically looking at how long they spent in front of a computer monitor and/or TV screen, as well as their mental health. Physical activity levels were measured and recorded using an activity monitor, according to an online article.

The investigators found that those children who spend at least two hours watching TV and/or using their computer for recreational use exhibited higher psychological difficulty scores than their peers who spent less time in front of screens. These findings, they noted, were not altered by higher physical activity levels.

“Limiting computer use and television viewing may be important for optimal well-being for young people,” said the authors.

In the study, the activity monitor indicated that:

  • Children whose physical activity levels were gauged as sedentary achieved higher overall psychological scores.
  • Children with moderate physical activity seemed to have more behavior problems, including hyperactivity, but had higher scores relating to peer problems and emotional issues.

Questionnaires in which children were asked to rate their strengths and difficulties in areas of hyperactivity, conduct, emotional, and peer problems were used to evaluate psychological well-being. Participants read a series of statements and were asked to rate their truth value with a score of one to three (with three having the highest truth value). An example of statements that were used to rate emotional well-being included: "I am often unhappy, down-hearted or tearful', while statements to assess their peer problems included; 'I am usually on my own', 'I generally play alone or keep to myself."

The study’s lead author, Angie Page, said that although “low levels of screen viewing may not be problematic, we cannot rely on physical activity to 'compensate' for long hours of screen viewing.”

For more:

  • AAP Smart Guide to Kid's TV
  • Screens, Screens Everywhere… and time to turn them off!
  • Healthy Habits for TV, Video Games, and the Internet

What do you think of these findings? In your practice, do you discuss with parents the importance of limiting TV and computer time? What advice do you offer parents?