Parents may went to limit their children’s computer use and TV viewing time to ensure their psychological well-being.
Children who spent two hours or more a day watching TV or playing on a computer were more likely to have psychology difficulties.
The negative impact of screen time was not remedied by increasing a child’s physical activity levels.
Many parents and children think that spending a lot of time on the computer or in front of the television is OK if it’s part of a “balanced lifestyle.”
Hiding the TV remote and games console controller is a good thing to do to kids if it’s the only way to limit the time they spend in front of a screen, according to a study published Monday.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Bristol, found that youngsters who spend hours each day in front of the TV or games console have more psychological difficulties like problems relating to peers, emotional issues, hyperactivity or conduct challenges, than those who don’t.
And contrary to what earlier studies have indicated, the negative impact of screen time was not remedied by increasing a child’s physical activity levels, says the study, published in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers got 1,013 children between the ages of 10 and 11 to self-report average daily hours spent watching television or playing — not doing homework — on a computer. Responses ranged from zero to around five hours per day.
The children also completed a 25-point questionnaire to assess their psychological state, and the time they spent in moderate to vigorous activity was measured using a device called an accelerometer, which was worn around the waist for seven days.
The researchers found that children who spent two hours or more a day watching television or playing on a computer were more likely to get high scores on the questionnaire, indicating they had more psychological difficulties than kids who did not spend a lot of time in front of a screen.
Even children who were physically active but spent more than two hours a day in front of a screen were at increased risk of psychological difficulties, indicating that screen time might be the chief culprit.
Earlier studies have found that while more time spent in front of a screen led to lower well-being, physical activity improved one’s state of mind. That led researchers to believe that upping physical activity levels could counteract the negative impact of watching TV or playing on the computer.
And many parents and children think that spending a lot of time on the computer or in front of the television is OK if it’s part of a “balanced lifestyle,” the study in Pediatrics says.
“Excessive use of electronic media is not a concern if children are physically active,” the study says.
But its findings indicate that might not be the case, and the researchers advise parents to limit their children’s computer use and TV viewing time to ensure their “optimal well-being.”
‘Long-term harm’ of too much TV for toddlers
Can too much TV lead to unhealthy habits?
The more TV a toddler watches, the higher the likelihood they will do badly at school and have poor health at the age of 10, researchers warn.
The study of 1,300 children by Michigan and Montreal universities found negative effects on older children rose with every hour of toddler TV.
Performance at school was worse, while consumption of junk foods was higher.
UK experts said parents could allow young children to watch “some” high quality TV.
Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood
Dr Linda Pagani, University of Montreal
The study, part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development Main Exposure, asked parents how much TV their children watched at 29 months (two years and five months) and 53 months (four years and five months).
On average, the two-year-olds watched just under nine hours of TV per week, while for four-year-olds the average was just under 15 hours.
But 11% of the two-year-olds and 23% of four-year-olds watched more than the recommended maximum of two hours of TV a day.
When the children were revisited at the age of 10, teachers were asked to assess the children’s academic performance, behaviour and health, while body mass index (BMI) was measured at 10 years old.
Higher levels of TV viewing at two was linked to a lower level of engagement in the classroom and poor achievement in maths.
Researchers also found a decrease in general physical activity but an increase in the consumption of soft drinks and in BMI (body mass index).
Dr Linda Pagani, of the University of Montreal, who led the research which was published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, said: “Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and formation of behaviour.
“High levels of TV consumption during this period can lead to future unhealthy habits.
“Common sense would suggest that television exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks that foster cognitive, behavioural and motor development.”
And she added:”Although we expected the impact of early TV viewing to disappear after seven and a half years of childhood, the fact that negative outcomes remained is quite daunting.
“Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood.”
The UK’s National Literacy Trust campaigns to raise awareness of how to police a toddler’s viewing.
It said that until research demonstrated that children under two might benefit from TV, parents should, “limit exposure and encourage other one-to-one language-enhancing activities that centre on talk at mealtime, bath time, shared reading and imaginative play”.
But it added: “Encourage exposure to some high-quality, age-appropriate educational television for children aged two to five.”
British Psychological Society member Dr Aric Sigman has carried out his own research, which highlighted concerns over young children watching too much TV.
He said: “My recommendation to the government five years ago, and even as recently as three years ago, that they merely issue general guidelines on the amount of TV that children watch and the age at which they start was considered radical and controversial.
“Yet a growing body of evidence is now causing governments and health authorities elsewhere to do just that, and we need to as well.
“This is yet another study reinforcing the need for our society to finally accept that quite aside from good or bad parenting, children’s daily screen time is a major independent health issue.”