The American Academy of Pediatrics has previously found that American children between the ages of 2 and 18 years old spend an average of 6 hours and 32 minutes each day using media (television, commercial or self-recorded video, movies, video games, print, radio, recorded music, computer, and the Internet).

A new report also published in the Journal Pediatrics looks at the effects this extended ‘screen time’ has on young people.

The report has found that even 2 hours a day spent on new media technology can put a child at greater risk of mental health issues.

“We know that physical activity is good for both physical and mental health in children and there is some evidence that screen viewing is associated with negative behaviours,” lead researcher Dr. Angie Page of the University of Bristol said. “But it wasn’t clear whether having high physical activity levels would ‘compensate’ for high levels of screen viewing in children.”

More than 1,000 young people aged between 10 and 11 years old were observed over a 7 day period. They filled out questionnaires reporting how much time they spent daily in front of a television or computer and answering questions describing their mental state including; emotional, behavioural, and peer-related problems. At the same time, an accelerometer measured their physical activity.

Children who spent more than 2 hours a day exposed to screen time were 60% more likely to encounter significant psychological difficulties. This was regardless of sex, age, stage of puberty, or level of educational or economic deprivation.

Psychological problems further increased if kids did not participate in some sort of moderate to rigorous daily exercise in addition to the increased screen time. However, physical activity did not appear to compensate for the psychological consequences of screen time.

Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, an eminent brain expert who also heads a multi-disciplinary Oxford University team investigating neuro-degenerative disorders has shed some light as to why a child immersed in the world of new media and the ever growing ‘screen culture of the computer age’ might experience changes in their brains and how this could impact both their personalities and behaviours.

She said “By screen culture, I mean literally that; a world of two dimensions where for six hours a day or more, people in the western developed world, more particularly kids, are spending time either playing games or on social networking sites and thereby putting themselves in an environment that is very much in the here and now, that has very strong audio and visual sensations, where at the press of a button you get instant feedback from whatever you’re doing.”

She continued “When you have a relationship through that medium, you’re not using body language, you’re not using prosody – that’s the kind of tone of voice – you’re certainly not picking up on pheromones and all the other clues, that when you have a face-to-face conversation with someone, makes it quite challenging but also very exciting when you speak to someone.”

“What this “it’s all about me culture” where you just have to publicise you’re cleaning your teeth or you’re putting your socks suggests to me is someone with a rather shaky sense of identity. It’s almost like a small child who keeps saying, “Look at me do this, look at me do that.” It’s almost you need the reassurance, the feedback from a third party, from someone outside that you exist. Because a continuous sense of identity does requires quite a lot of sophisticated cognitive machinery, something that’s not there in a very small child, for example.”

Dr. Thomas N. Robinson of the Stanford University School of Medicine has also conducted research into the effects of screen time on teenagers. He found that limiting screen time reduced weight gain, aggression and consumer behaviours in kids.

Dr Robinson said “In our studies we find that giving children a screen-time budget and helping them stick to that budget is the most effective way to reduce their television, video game, computer and other screen time, and to improve their health as a result.”

“Parents as well as kids tell us that budgeting kids’ screen time has profound positive effects on their families’ lives,” added Robinson.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Reuters (Health)UK