Drop that iPhone! Researchers suggest limiting kids’ screen time to 2 hours a day

Apple’s late co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs controlled how much his kids used screen-based technology. So did Microsoft’s Bill Gates. But how much of our concern is well-founded, and what impact does screen usage really have on the younger generation? Researchers from Canada have attempted to answer that question with a recent analysis of lifestyle data from questionnaires by 4,520 American kids, ages 8 to 11. It concludes that, at least as far as good cognitive health may be concerned, parents may do well to limit their offspring to two hours of screen time per day, while ensuring that an additional hour is spent being physically active. That should all be topped off by a good night’s sleep of 9 to 11 hours.

“The main findings from this study were that, [firstly], children who met all three of the recommendations had significantly higher measures of cognition compared to children who did not meet any recommendations,” Jeremy Walsh of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottowa, Canada, told Digital Trends. “[Secondly], meeting the sleep and screen or the screen-only recommendations had the strongest favorable relationship with cognition. [Finally], only 5 percent of the children in this sample met all three recommendations, whereas nearly 30 percent of the children did not meet any of the recommendations.”

The study isn’t perfect. Notably, it doesn’t break down what kids are doing with their screen time. There may be (and, we’d guess, probably is) a big difference between playing Call of Duty and using educational apps, but this is not examined by the researchers. Not yet, at least. “The next steps for this research will be to investigate the relationship between screen type and screen content — [for example] educational versus video game versus social media — in these children,” Walsh said.

Ultimately, this snapshot study is just one more piece in a much larger, more complex puzzle concerning the relationship between kids and technology. It’s by no means the definitive study, although conclusions like the ones reached by the researchers will certainly be helpful for later follow-up work. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to get some exercise and an early night’s sleep!

A paper describing the study was recently published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

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