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Screen Time and Attention Difficulties

July 20th, 2010

Researchers in Psychology at Iowa State University recently completed a study involving school-age and college-age participants in Iowa.

Their goal: To determine how the amount of screen time affects children’s attention skills in school.

As mentioned earlier in this blog, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time each day for middle and high school children, and even less for younger children. The ISU study found that the average television and video gaming time was 4.26 hours per day. This is well above the recommended amount, but still below the national average.

When observing the classroom behaviors of these children, the researchers found that children who exceeded the recommended two hours of screen time per day were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be above average in attention problems. Although many other factors contribute to attention difficulties, the investigators of this study feel that screen time may be a contributing factor for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

Although they don’t know exactly why increased screen time is associated with increased attention problems, researchers speculate that it could be due to the fast-paced, attention grabbing effects of television shows. Today, television shows change screens every one to two seconds, and include many more lights, camera and sound changes, and special effects than in the past. Children who get used to this action packed, attention-grabbing entertainment may have more difficulty concentrating in a classroom that doesn’t have all these special effects.

So, what can you do to limit your child’s tv time?  Click here to find out more.

media and kids

  1. JS
    | #1

    is this just a correlation or did the researchers definitively establish causation? Did the researchers confirm that if the screen time is decreased in the same children that previously had high screen time, do they then increase their ability to concentrate in school? If it is a correlation, it could just as easily be that those kids with ADHD are more drawn to spending screen time. Please include the reference to the published article so that I can see how they conducted their research.

  2. Molly
    | #2

    Here is the link for the entire article. Using general linear models in this longitudinal study, researchers did establish that increased levels of screen time at time 1 was associated with attention difficulties at time 4. It’s really one of the first longitudinal studies examining this, but early research suggests that it’s not a simple correlation that shows children with attention difficulties are more drawn to spending their time in front of a screen.

  3. JS
    | #3

    Thanks for the link. I’ll read the paper. I’m curious to see if they studied any interventions and their effect as well.@Molly

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