Research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics found that excessive TV viewing and gaming were the two screen-time activities most closely associated with lower grades for both primary and secondary students.
The study was a meta-analysis of the results of 58 previous studies, involving some half-million subjects aged four to 18. Findings of the study showed that as TV viewing (including digital services such as Netflix) increases, academic performance decreases for all school-aged groups, with the greatest impact being on teenage students. A correlation between an increase in gaming time and decrease in academic performance for teenage students was also uncovered.
Results of the study demonstrated that watching more TV impacted language and maths performance, as well as overall grades, for teenage students. Primary-aged students also showed a decrease in language and maths performance. For pre-schoolers - aged 2-3 - there was some evidence that educational TV viewing conferred a language advantage.
Researchers speculated that excessive television-watching was displacing other activities - including physical play, conversation, studying and sleeping - and that this reduced mental effort in other areas.
The results around gaming were less emphatic, with only overall academic grades among teens impacted. While gaming has also been linked to declines in verbal memory and restorative slow-wave sleep in school-aged children, it has also been shown to improve motor performance and spatial abilities.
Interestingly, the study found no correlation at all between mobile phone use and academic performance, or between good grades and screen-time in general.
Related blog post: Are phone bans educationally sound?
The conclusions cast further doubt on the assumption that “screen-time is screen-time” and support an emerging consensus in the research community that the impact of screens on children is far more complex than has been previously thought.
“There are plenty of mindless things that you could be doing on a screen. But there are also interactive, exploratory things that you could be doing” - Psychologist Alison Gopnik
The researchers pointed out that the reason so much screen-time research seems contradictory - with some showing negative effects, others positive effects, and others no effects at all - is likely due to a lack of consideration of wider screen use factors. The type of device used, purpose of task, content, and context of use are all factors which influence how students’ screen-based activity affect them. The researchers are increasingly critical of studies that fail to take these variables into account by framing “screen-time” into a single overarching category.
Related white paper: Digital Distraction - Spotlight on Smartphones in Schools
The results of this research is worrying both for parents and the school community as while the vast majority of student TV and gaming time occurs outside of school hours, the impact is felt at school. Therefore, a community-wide approach to digital safety and wellbeing is required. Schools must rely on parents to monitor students’ digital habits outside of school hours, and parents need schools to reinforce the importance of healthy device use through education and support.
Education is always at the forefront of behavioural change and with Family Zone, parent education is very much part of the digital safety package, through presentations, workshops and courses by our acclaimed team of cyber experts.
With Family Zone, schools have the technology at their disposal to manage devices during school time, while parents are empowered to create their own rules at all other times. The combination of cutting-edge technology and expert advice provides a powerful community-wide approach to allow schools to lead the way towards healthy device use for their students.
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