The premise of the study is that the accepted recommendations about the amount of screen time children should be exposed to is outmoded and out of date. The current recommendation is that children should be limited to two hours of screen time per day. The study makes the argument that with the advent of smart phones, tablets and the like that children are regularly exceeding the two hour limit, and that it is perhaps not tenable in our brave, new world.
The recommendations of the researchers as reported in the press release? Change the guidelines.2
[blockquote cite=”AAAS Press Release” type=”left, center, right”]The introduction of mobile devices suggests the less than two hours per day recommendation may no longer be tenable given the surge in social media engagement and school derived screen use. Guidelines for appropriate screen use, should also take into account the extent to which screen use differs across form, activity, sex, and age[/blockquote]
Well, that sounds reasonable. Except not even a little bit. Because what the press release seems to skim over is why those guidelines were there in the first place. The American Association of Pediatrics links excessive media use with attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In the press release itself, the author writes that:
[blockquote cite=”AAAS Press Release” type=”left, center, right”]Prolonged use of screens by children is associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes, such as increased risk of depression and anxiety in adolescent girls.[/blockquote]
There’s even some pretty hard medical evidence linking too much screen time with physical changes to the brain, including impaired dopamine function and the atrophy of gray matter.
And, yes, we understand that these guidelines are pretty unrealistic, and good luck to the parent who tries to enforce it, but that’s not the point. The point is, the guidelines are there for a reason – too much screen time has been proven to be unhealthy for children. If we found that a significant portion of children exceeded the daily recommended amount of sugar, our decision wouldn’t be, fuck it, EAT ALL THE SUGAR, CHILDREN.
So, choose your choice – are these studies linking screen time with serious medical conditions overblown hysteria, or are there real risks associated with more than two hours of screen time?
And therein lies the problem – not only is there not an answer to that question in this study, no one intended to answer that question. This study is part of a much bigger project, that will, at its conclusion, make recommendations about screen time. This specific study? Its intention was to find out how much time children are really spending in front of a screen. And, it is telling us kids are spending WAY more time in front of screens than the guidelines recommend. That’s it. That’s the point of the study. Changing the guidelines? That’s all from the press release. That’s not actually, you know…Science.
[Ice cream picture via Shutterstock]
S. Houghton, SC Hunter, et al “Virtually Impossible: Limiting Australian children and adolescents daily screen based media use” BMC Public Health 2015, 15:5 ↩