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Kids’ Screen Time Linked to Psychological Problems

Study Shows Risks for Kids Who Watch TV or Use Computers More Than 2 Hours a Day
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 11, 2010 -- Children who watch television or use computers for more than two hours a day are more likely to experience psychological problems than kids who don’t, even if they are physically active, according to a new study.

The study, which involved 1,013 children ages 10-11, found that those who spent more than two hours in front of a screen, whether watching TV, using a computer, or a combination, also were more likely to say they had trouble relating to friends and peer groups and to report feelings of unhappiness.

The children were told to wear accelerometers, devices attached to their waists that recorded their activities every 10 seconds during waking hours for seven straight days.

Working on a computerized questionnaire, the children then were asked about how much time daily they usually spent watching TV or using a computer for reasons other than doing homework. They also were asked questions such as whether they often felt unhappy, down-hearted, tearful, or lonely.

Scores were based on a “Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire,” a well-known inventory designed to provide insights into the psychological well-being of young people.

The answers “combined to produce an overall score that indicates whether the child/young person is likely to have a significant problem,” study researcher Angie S. Page, PhD, of the University of Bristol in England, tells WebMD in an email. “It has five sections that cover details of emotional difficulties -- conduct problems, hyperactivity or inattention,” and trouble relating to friends and peers.

The questionnaire “is only a screening tool that will provide predictions about how likely it is that a child or young person has significant mental health problems.”

Role of Physical Activity

Page tells WebMD that the study found “no evidence that sedentary time -- time spent not moving or [engaging in] minimal movement -- is related to negative psychological well-being. It seems more like what you are doing in that sedentary time that is important, [for example] if you choose to spend large numbers of hours screen viewing for entertainment then this is associated with negative mental well-being.”

Page tells WebMD that while low levels of screen viewing may “not be problematic, we cannot rely on physical activity to ‘compensate’ for long hours of screen viewing.”

She says “watching TV or playing computer games for more than two hours a day is related to greater psychological difficulties, irrespective of how active children are.”

Parents, she says, should encourage physical activity for their children and take steps to reduce their time in front of a screen.

What’s seems clear from the study, she tells WebMD, is that children who spend longer than two hours in front of a computer or TV screen may suffer detrimental consequences, physically and mentally.

Children who engaged in more moderate physical activity fared better in certain measures of psychological health, she says.

The study is online in advance of publication in the November edition of the journal Pediatrics.

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