Study Finds Limiting Screen Time For Kids Improves Their Memory, Attention Span, And Language Skills

Limiting a child's screen time can help brain develop
Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

For parents wondering what an acceptable amount of screen time is for their kids, a recent study may have the answer. Time recently reported on the study, which was published by The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.

For the study, researchers looked at nearly 4,500 children between the ages of 8 and 11. They compared their sleep schedules, exercise, and screen time to existing national guidelines for children’s health. Those guidelines limit the amount of acceptable screen time to two hours. They also say that 9-11 hours of sleep is ideal, and that kids should be active at least one hour out of every day.

Out of all 4,500 children participating in the study, researchers found that only 5 percent of them were meeting those recommended guidelines. The study found that 51 percent of kids got the recommended amount of sleep each night. However, just 37 percent had the recommended amount of screen time, and only 18 percent met the physical activity requirement.

Children should not use a device with a screen, like this tablet, for more than 2 hours a day. Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

Those who met all the goals showed they had better cognition, i.e. they were better at memory, language, and attention.

“We know that the behaviors of physical activity, sleep and screen time can independently impact the cognitive health of a child. However, these behaviors are never considered in combination,” said Jeffrey Walsh, the lead author of the study. “We really had an opportunity here to look at how meeting each of these guidelines and meeting all of the guidelines relate to cognition in a large sample of American children.”

The Huffington Post reported that the study found that kids aged 8 to 11 spent an average of nearly four hours watching TV, which is a sizable chunk of their day when you consider they are only supposed to be awake for 13 hours. More than two hours of screen time was associated with poor cognitive development, Walsh said. Apparently, those who watch too much TV do not have as good of brain function or memory as those who do not.

“Based on our findings, pediatricians, parents, educators and policymakers should promote limiting recreation screen time and prioritizing healthy sleep routines during childhood and adolescence,” Walsh said.

This study is particularly important as non-stop connectivity, smartphones, and other screen devices become more and more ubiquitous. Respondents to the study were spread across 20 different areas in the United States. The recommendations for sleep and exercise fall within World Health Organization guidelines, but Canada is the first country to recommend limited screen time for kids. Nearly 30 percent of kids failed to meet any of the recommendations set forth in the study.