Screen time is a part of daily life for adults and children, from browsing on laptops and smartphones or watching TV. Pediatricians and scientists have long been concerned about the impacts of overusing technology on people’s well-being, especially children. But new Oxford University research suggests that existing guidance for managing children’s screen time may not be as helpful as once thought.
Earlier this year, researchers from Oxford University wrote a paper that disputed the general device guidelines for teenagers. They proposed that a moderate amount of time, called the ‘Goldilocks’ period, may actually boost teenage well-being.
In the study, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University conducted a similar study which assessed the impact of screen-time on children aged two to five. The team tested screen use guidelines that are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). These guidelines propose that a limit of one to two hours of screen time per day is best for the psychological well-being of young children.
Using data from approximately 20,000 telephone interviews with parents, the researchers assessed the relationship between children’s technology use and their overall well-being. Over a month, this relationship was measured in terms of caregiver attachment, impact on emotional resilience, curiosity and positive affect. The results of this study showed a few interesting things that ultimately suggest that limiting a child's digital device use is not necessarily beneficial for their overall well-being.
The study showed that there are no correlations between either the 2010 or revised 2016 advised digital usage limits and young children’s well-being. Children aged two to five whose technology usage was limited in line with AAP guidance showed slightly higher levels of resilience, and this was balanced by lower levels of positive affect.
Further research showed similar results to those reported in the recent study of teenagers. Moderate screen-use above the recommended limits might actually be linked to slightly higher levels of well-being.
Dr. Andrew Pryzbylski, lead author of the paper from Oxford Internet Institute, said, “Taken together, our findings suggest that there is little or no support for the theory that digital screen use, on its own, is bad for young children's psychological well-being. If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they're actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time. Future research should focus on how using digital devices with parents or caregivers and turn it into a social time can affect children's psychological well-being, curiosity and the bonds with the caregiver involved."
The research team’s findings included the observations that digital screen use increased with age, is higher in boys, non-whites, and children with less educated caregivers and children from less affluent homes.
The researchers found the APP guidelines are based on out-of-date research that was conducted before digital devices had become a part of everyday life. As a result, these guidelines are increasingly difficult to justify and implement.
Dr. Netta Weinstein, co-author and senior lecturer in psychology at Cardiff University, said, “Given that we cannot put the digital genie back in the bottle, it is incumbent on researchers to conduct rigorous, up-to-date research that identifies mechanisms by and the extent to which screen-time exposure might affect children."
Pryzbylski adds, "To be robust, current recommendations may need to be re-evaluated and given additional consideration before we can confidently recommend that these digital screen-time limits are good for young children's mental health and well-being."
A paper on this research was published in Child Development.