My kids love cartoons. Even more than cartoons, they love video games. Having heard somewhere that video games nurture creativity, I had been perfectly fine with the games part. Until I familiarized myself with the number of studies investigating the link between kids’ academic performance and their screen exposure. Let me share with you what I found.
No Good News of Kids
Let me put it simply. The more children watch TV and play video games, the worse they do at school. The link is strong and does not leave a lot of room to negotiate. There are nuances however.
The worst implications have screen time, both TV and video games, allowed on weekdays. Have a look at the charts taken from study of 4,508 New Hampshire and Vermont students between 9 and 15 years.
“Excellent” and “below average” on the vertical scale mean their grades, and numbers on the horizontal scale are average time they spent watching TV (charts A and C) or playing video games (B and D). See how the “excellent” line drops when weekday screen time on charts A and B goes from 0 to 4-7 hours? That is how student thank you for TV set, channel subscriptions and games you bought them.
Interestingly, time spent in from on the screen on weekends (see charts C and D) does not have such a devastating impact on children school performance. At least, three hours for a weekend seem quite safe; at least safer than any time allocated of this kind of activity on weekdays.
Content matters a lot. The same study found that children who watched R-rated movies, even occasionally, are at very high risk of becoming problem student. There connection may not be immediate (i.e. after watching sexual or violent movie kids cannot learn); it may be the case that parents allowing their children watch inappropriate content, just do not care, and this creates many issues, not only poor school grades.
The children spending too much time in front of the screen have problems at school due to the reasons as follows:
– strong emotional experiences, such as computer games and thrilling films, influence learning skills. Recently acquired knowledge is very sensitive, and strong emotions within the hours after learning could considerably hinder work of memory;
– the same emotions disrupt sleep which noticeably negatively affect memory and learning capabilities;
– there is a strong association between TV and video game exposure and problems with attention that are sometimes referred to as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are associated with negative outcomes for children and adolescents, including poorer school performance and increased aggression. The risk of attention-related problems is much higher for children spending more than two hours a day in front of the screen;
– sitting in front of TV makes kids less physically active; and physical activity is one on the most best things people can do to help themselves think, learn, and memorize.
If you are like me, that after reading the last point you immediately recalled active video games supposedly stimulating player’s physical activity. What is wrong with them?
Active Video Games
I was, and to some extent stay, a believer in active video games. I played a lot with my kids used Xbox Kinect and Wii. Both are excellent devices (we prefer Xbox) and can make a real workout out of the exciting game.
The problem though is that the mere fact of having a gaming console and active games in the house is not enough to increase overall kids’ physical activity. My personal experience confirms this, but since the whole idea of this blog is to support any meaningful conclusion by the results of a scientific research, please be informed that combined team of researchers from Houston and Hong Kong found exactly the same for the sample of boys 9 – 12 years old. Children who were given active video games end up with about the same level of physical activity as children having an inactive video game.
The researchers did not speculate how this happens, so here is my version. Kids playing active video games, save calories on other physical activities (biking, walking, hide-and-seek, trampoline jumping, you name it).
It makes a lot of sense to limit the children exposure to the screen time, regardless if it is TV or video games. Thirty – sixty minutes per a weekday and two – three hours on Saturday and Sunday seem like an acceptable schedule to me.
The only exemption can be made for educational programs that, as studies show, do not contribute to any problems with attention, aggression or sleep. However, as soon as kids learn how to change programs, it will be troublesome to make them watch Discovery Channel while they are able to switch to Cartoon Networks. If you cannot enforce watching educational channels, it is much safer to limit total screen time. To limit my kids I for about 2 years have used a screen time manager allowing every child to use screen time allocated to them on a daily basis. Works like a charm and saves me from daily arguments at the time when their screen time is over.
If you cannot make your children get engaged in other forms of physical activity, you can try motivating them to play active video games. The best motivation may be yourself playing with them (caution: some games require vigorous excessive).
Even you stick to very liberal views, make sure children have no access to R-rated movies, programs and games. This is not about morals; this is about their future.
Strict restrictions may look harsh but this is one of the best ways to help them become happy successful adults that you would like to see in a several years.