Spending time in front of screens could help kids make friends, claims study

Ever since the invention of the TV, parents have complained about their children getting 'square eyes' from too much screen time.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has seen screen time skyrocket among kids sky rocket to an all-time high, many parents have been understandably worried about issues such as gaming addiction and whether it could be causing their children mental health issues.

However, a new study from the University of Colorado has assessed 11,875 nine- and 10-year-old children and concluded that increased screen time is "unlikely to be directly harmful".

In what is perhaps the largest-scale study of its kind, the researchers investigated the relationship between screen time and mental health, academic performance, sleep habits, and peer relationships.

While TV and videogame use among kids is 'moderately' associated with increased behavioural problems, poorer sleep, and worse academic performance, this was largely down to just how much children spend on screens.

Startlingly, the study found that children's friendships and peer relationships were enhanced by screen time – as any parent who has had to tell their kids to keep it down on Fortnite can surely attest.

"Adolescence is a critical developmental period during which important aspects of health and well-being are easily influenced," the researchers write.

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"As electronic media use among adolescents climbs, screens are increasingly incorporated into adolescents' development, and therefore, potential relationships between screen time and adolescent well-being are of interest."

The impact of electronic media on children varies according to what sort of screen time they are engaging in, with the impact of anxiety or depression varying depending on whether a child is texting, gaming, or watching TV. The study argues that screen time itself is not automatically a cause for concern, but rather, it is how kids are using screens that matters.

The use of screens and electronic media by kids is a controversial topic currently. Recently, China imposed a three-hour weekly limit on gaming among under-18s, going as far as to suspend licences for new videogame releases as part of a crackdown on gaming.

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