Limiting Children’s Recreational Screen Time Leads to Better Cognition, New Study Shows

A new study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health found that limiting the recreational screen time of your children to less than two hours a day, in conjunction with adequate sleep and physical activity, is associated with improved cognition.

The study conducted by LCAH included around 4,500 US children ages 8 to 11 and measured their habits against the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. It discovered that 51% of the children who got the recommended nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, 37% met the recreational screen time limit of two hours or less per day, while 18% met the physical activity recommendation of at least 60 minutes of overall physical activity a day.

One of the more alarming findings of the study identified that only 5% of the children in the study met all three recommendations while 30% met none at all. The average participant slept 9.1 hours per night, had 3.6 hours of recreational screen time daily and achieved the physical activity goal of 3.7 days per week.


Researchers found that as each of the three main recommendations were met; there were positive effects regarding cognition, attention, processing speed, memory, and language. The children who met all three were found to have the most “superior” global cognition, followed by those meeting the sleep and screen time recommendation and lastly the screen time recommendation alone, according to the study. Increased cognition, of course, pays long-term dividends, rearing a child with higher lifetime earning potential.

“We know that the behaviors of physical activity, sleep and screen time can independently impact the cognitive health of a child. However, these behaviors are never considered in combination,” said Jeremy Walsh, lead author of the study and a former post-doctoral fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, where the research was carried out. “We really had an opportunity here to look at how meeting each of these guidelines and meeting all of the guidelines relate to cognition in a large sample of American children.”

The study took data from the National Institutes of Health-funded Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study and included surveys done by parents about the average amount of sleep their children got on a nightly basis, how often their kids were physically active and how much time they had with screens.


Walsh believes that the 30% of the children in the study who did not meet any of the guidelines have the most to gain from adjusting their daily behaviors.

“They stand to benefit the most because they are not receiving any of the benefits from meeting these guidelines,” said Walsh.

“This new research adds to existing evidence, and supports concerns about screen time and potential negative links with cognitive development in children,” Kirsten Corder, a senior investigator scientist with the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. She was not involved in the study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has suggested guidelines in place to help with a parent’s management of their children’s screen time. The AAP recommends doing things like setting guidelines, encouraging physical playtime and creating “tech-free zones,” such as bedrooms. Their screen time recommendations vary depending on the age of the child.

Walsh believes that establishing reasonable screen time habits could help encourage proper usage and the benefits that come with it.

“I think that the overarching goal here is that parents should consider the whole 24-hour day of their children,” he said, “and put realistic rules or limits in place for how long they are on their screens for, having bedtime rules, and making sure to encourage physical activity.”

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R/T The Lancet

This study was originally published by the Lancet