The effect of screen abuse among the youngest is still a very new and controversial field of research. But the first studies that are being carried out to analyze their consequences should be taken as a wake-up call, because there are signs that indicate that the cognitive development of minors is impaired. The latest work, by Canadian researchers, has found a very direct correlation between the use of these devices and the intelligence of children, at a time critical for their development.
Study confirms: children watching content through display are less intelligent
This study compares the intellectual performance of 4,500 American children between 8 and 11 years old based on the recommendations given by a Canadian plan called 24-hour Movement: between 9 and 11 hours of sleep, at least one hour of exercise every day and less than two hours hours of entertainment with screens. The conclusions, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, are very clear: the more individual recommendations that boys and girls meet, the better their skills will be. But there is a pattern that stands out above the others: the time spent on devices is the one that has a stronger relationship with intellectual maturation.
“We discovered that more than two hours of recreational time with screens are associated with worse cognitive development in children,” conclude researchers at the University of Ottawa. In addition, due to this finding, they recommend that pediatricians, parents, educators and politicians promote a “limitation of recreational screen time and prioritize healthy sleep routines during childhood and adolescence.”
The children studied (controlled by income, parent education and other variables) completed a test that assessed language skills, episodic memory, executive function, attention, working memory and processing speed. And the more recommendations they fulfilled, the better their score on this test was. But above all if he limited his technological sedentary lifestyle under the two hours marked in the guideline. “For families it is very important, because if they want to optimize the cognitive health of their children they should pay attention to these behaviors,” Jeremy Walsh, the leader of this study, tells Materia. The researcher recalls that when they talk about “screen time” (screentime, in English) refers to all kinds of devices such as phones, tablets, computers, video games and also television. Spanish children spend three and a half hours a day inactivity in front of a screen and girls spend four hours a day, according to the Anibes study.
Lack of sleep and children’s health!
Another very important aspect, especially when combined with technological leisure time, is the lack of sleep among children. Numerous studies have already indicated that sleep plays an important role in the development and plasticity of the brain and a good quality and quantity of sleep is positively associated with cognition and academic performance in children and adolescents. What they discover in this study, in which only half of children sleep as recommended, is a connection between lack of sleep and the use of devices. According to the researchers, the dream “needed to be combined with compliance with the screen time recommendation to have a positive effect”. This finding raises the possibility that the daily use of more than two hours of recreational screens attenuate the benefits of sleep for the general intelligence of children.
The study will continue…
The American study will follow the evolution of children for ten years, but for now shows a fixed picture of the association between these devices and the intellectual capacity of children that does not allow to know with certainty the origin of this correlation. Could it be that the less able children are those who use the devices more and not the other way around? “We can not establish causality in our study,” Walsh admits, “but what I can say is that two-thirds of the children studied violate the leisure guidelines with screens, so the answer must be more complicated than thinking that the least able to use them. ”
The researchers warn of an important gap in their work that should be studied in the future, which refers to the type of activity carried out by children with these screens. “We must concentrate on investigating the influence that this leisure time has on the type of content and the use they make with minors: social networks, videogames, chatting, educational tasks …”, says Walsh, because he considers that perhaps all these uses influence in the same way the intellectual maturation. “We do not want to discourage the use of these devices in an educational environment, because we do not know if it can be beneficial, but since we do not know the effect of the content this should be the most important area of study, because children grow with the screens practically from his birth, “sums up the researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
Smith believes that the main limitation of the Canadian study is at this point, “since studies have shown that the context and content of the screens and how they are used massively changes the impact they have on a child.” In addition, it is in accordance with the recommendation to limit this technological leisure, but not with warnings that require time limits that families find difficult to comply with. “Families should be advised to find a balance between daily activities and the types of screen time that work best for them,” he says.
A more broader age range should be covered
In the opinion of the Spanish expert Enrique Echeburúa, from the University of the Basque Country, the main drawback of the study is that at the moment it focuses only on children between 8 and 11 years old. “We do not know if the results would be the same in cognitive functioning if another important age group is used, for example 12 to 15 years, when adolescents change their behavior,” he explains. He adds: “The brain of a person does not mature physiologically until 20-25 years, hence the importance of not being able to draw definitive conclusions about the influence of specific variables on global cognitive functioning if they do not take into account different age groups, where other variables can also mediate “.