Pediatricians and concerned parents have paid attention to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations concerning the amount of time youngsters spend watching television or engaged with other electronic media. However recent research calls these recommendations into question. Does additional screen time beyond the AAP recommendations adversely affect children’s mental health?
A UK study published in 2017 in Child Development surveyed parents of 2- to 5-year olds. They were asked how much time their child(ren) spent watching TV, playing video games, or engaged with electronic media (computers, cell phones, handheld electronic devices). They also answered questions about several measures of childhood psychological well-being, including attachment to the caregiver, reliance (bouncing back from not getting their way), curiosity about learning new things, and positive affect (smiling and laughing). The researchers controlled for ethnicity, age, gender, household income, and caregiver education, as these factors were thought to also affect childhood mental health. There was no significant difference between the mental health of children whose parents abided by the APA guideline and youngsters who spent more time in front of a television or other screen.
A different UK study published in 2019 in Nature Human Behavior examined adolescents’ mental health and use of digital technology. Researchers statistically examined three large datasets and found that the relationship between digital technology use and adolescent well-being explained only 0.4% of the variation among individuals. They conclude that “these effects are too small to warrant policy change.” Apparently, the question of the impact of screen time on the mental health of young people is still open for debate.