Your child’s grades are slipping - and their screen-time is expanding. Which of the following is most likely to blame? Too much
If you guessed “E,” Fortnite and Netflix, you can go to the head of the class.
Research published in the current issue of the prestigious 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 children and teens.
The study was a meta-analysis, which means it surveyed and synthesised the results of multiple previous studies - 58 of them in this case, involving some half-million subjects aged four to 18.
Its main finding? As TV viewing and gaming increase, academic performance decreases for all school-aged groups - but the effect is stronger for teens than for younger children.
How TV affects school success
Watching more TV impacted language and math performance as well as an overall grades for teens. For primary-aged kids, only language and math abilities were affected. (For pre-schoolers - aged 2-3 - there was even 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.
How gaming affects school success
The results around gaming were less emphatic, with only overall academic grades among teens impacted. Although gaming has 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.
There's no such thing as "screen-time"
Its 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
Factors like device used, purpose of task, content and context of use all influence how kids' screen-based activity affect them. And researchers are increasingly critical of studies that fail to take these variables into account, framing “screen-time” into a single overarching category.
If you’ve ever wondered why so much screen-time research seems contradictory - with some showing negative effects, others positive effects, and still others no effects at all - it’s probably because factors like these have not been identified, these researchers maintain.