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New study says this is the limit for teens and video games

Published May 25th, 2021 6:31PM EDT
screen time for kids
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The digital age has totally transformed how many of us spend our free time. Sure, it might be nice outside, but have you seen 4K? It’s got better resolution than the real world! I’m (kinda) kidding of course, but it’s true that there are a lot more things to do today that involve staring at screens than there ever has been in the entirety of human history. Many parents are concerned that things like social media and video games are distracting their children from other, more positive pursuits, and a new study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior suggests they have a good reason to worry.

The study, which focused on the correlation between screen time and school grades in middle-school children, suggests there’s a clear link between digital playtime and decreased academic performance. The researchers were even able to zero in on the amount of time that is “too much” and could lead to decreases in test scores, as well as lower grades.

The study, which was conducted using data from nearly 10,000 middle-school-aged children in China, revealed that the use of technology for entertainment as opposed to school work can be excessive for many kids. Based on the data, the researchers defined “excessive use of technology” as over an hour of social media, video games, or other uses of technology as entertainment on weekdays, and over four hours on weekends. This, apparently, is the tipping point, and the 1- and 4-hour marks are where kids’ grades begin to suffer.

“Interactive technology is widely used to promote children’s educational access and achievement,” Vivien (Wen Li) Anthony, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has been essential to facilitating remote learning. At the same time, there is a growing concern that excessive technology use, particularly for entertainment, may adversely affect children’s educational development by facilitating undesirable study habits and detracting from time spent on learning activities.”

That’s a good point. Remaining connected to schools during the pandemic required widespread adoption of technology, and much of that same technology — computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. — can also be used for things like mobile games or social apps that kids love, like Instagram, Kik, and Snapchat.

“Such findings are critical, particularly in light of the recent movement toward online learning in countries throughout the world,” Anthony explains. “In a learning environment that integrates the internet, it is easy for children to move across educational and entertainment platforms during learning without alerting teachers or adults to alternate activities.”

However, the study doesn’t suggest that parents nix video games and social media entirely. In fact, children who were able to play games and use social apps in moderation (under an hour per day on weekdays) actually became more interested in school and may have boosted their cognitive development, according to the researchers.

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