Two hours of screen time a day is enough to “dumb down’’ children or trigger depression or physical illness, a global study has revealed.
The Australian-led study of 577,000 children from 42 wealthy nations shows girls suffer ill-health after just two hours watching screens including television, social media or online gaming.
But because boys are more likely to be physically active, they can safely spend twice as much time on screens each day before suffering health problems.
As psychiatrists warn of rising anxiety and depression among Australian children, the landmark* study highlights the urgent need to balance screen time with “green time” outdoors. Children who exercise or play outdoors regularly are healthier and happier, the study shows.
Lead author Asaduzzaman Khan, associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Queensland, said the study found boys were twice as likely as girls to meet health guidelines for physical activity of an hour each day.
He said 24 per cent of boys, compared to 14 per cent of girls, spent an hour a day exercising.
The study found the recipe for mental wellbeing was an hour of physical activity, and no more than two hours a day using screens, apart from schoolwork.
“We found there were some benefits during the first hour of daily screen use, but detrimental* effects … on mental wellbeing kick in after 75 minutes in girls and 105 minutes in boys,” Dr Khan said.
“The (health) detriment* starts after two hours of screen time for girls, and four hours for boys.”
The study, published in The Lancet, found children’s mental wellbeing could improve by cutting back on screen time and increasing physical activity.
Melbourne dad Tom Hindhaugh said he tried to minimise screen time for his son, Patrick, 13.
Mr Hindhaugh said he had a three-zone system: a “go zone” for time dedicated to schoolwork, a “slow zone” for time playing video games or chatting with friends online and a “no zone” when screens were turned off.
“Obviously we need those screens for homeschooling. Technology is also the only way kids can communicate and hang out with each other during lockdown,” he said.
“We allocate an hour or so for ‘slow zone’ and then after that it’s screens off.
“We need to get children outside and moving. Physical activity is the key for their health, whether it’s walking, riding a bike or kicking the footy.”
Dr Khan said too much time spent watching TV, gaming or on social media could lead to “decreased cognitive* abilities”.
“Excess* screen time effects can include depression, obesity, poor quality of life, unhealthy diet and decreased physical and cognitive abilities,’’ he said.
“If you spend more time on screens you are likely to not do well in your academic performance.’’
The global study, involving the University of NSW, Queensland University of Technology and Queen’s University in Canada, analysed data measuring screen time, physical activity, mental health indicators and physical ailments* reported by 577,000 children aged 11, 13 and 15 from 42 wealthy countries.
It found that recreational screen time – excluding school work – averaged 6.3 hours for boys and 5.4 hours for girls.
Dr Khan said the children were surveyed before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has increased the time children spend indoors and on screens, including for remote learning.
- landmark: an event or discovery that marks an important stage or turning point in something
- detrimental: harmful
- detriment: harm or damage
- cognitive: to do with the mental process of knowing, learning and understanding things
- excess: amount that is more than necessary
- ailments: illnesses, health problems
- How many children were involved in this study?
- How many countries were these children from?
- How long can girls watch screens before suffering ill health?
- What is the recommended amount of physical activity for boys and girls each day?
- What percentage of boys and what percentage of girls meet the guideline for physical activity?
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1. Create a System
Tom Hindaugh created a three zone system to help his kids manage their screen time. Can you think of a system to manage screen time that would work at your house? Write a description of your system and create a poster that will help everyone at home understand it.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education, Personal and Social Capability
What are some great ‘green’ activities that kids who are in lockdown could do at home? Write a list of fun things that are easy to do at home and get you moving!
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education
Scan through the article and see if you can locate three words that you consider to be basic, or low level. These are words we use all the time and that can be replaced by more sophisticated words. Words like “good” and “said” are examples of overused words.
Once you have found them, see if you can up-level them. Think of synonyms you could use instead of these basic words, but make sure they still fit into the context of the article.
Re-read the article with your new words. Did it make it better? Why/why not?