Surprise: Too Much Screen Time Can Inhibit Your Kids' Brain Development

Oct 2, 2018 at 12:07 p.m. ET
kids playing with tablet
Image: Armin Weigel/picture Alliance Via Getty Images.

Well, we all guessed it, but now there's research to back it up. Too much screen time for kids is no bueno

A Canadian study — published last week in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal — dug deep into data from a larger study conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The study focused on 4,500 kids between the ages of 8 and 11.

More: We Asked Tech-Savvy Kids to Go Without Phones for a Week

The results? Kids who get nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, at least an hour of exercise and — here's the kicker — less than two hours playing Fortnite (or anything else on screens) showed marked benefits in brain function. 

"Evidence suggests that good sleep and physical activity are associated with improved academic performance, while physical activity is also linked to better reaction time, attention, memory and inhibition," said Jeremy Walsh, who works with the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada, and is the study's lead author and investigator.

More: 5 Ways to Keep Your Kids' Screen Time From Ruining the Holidays

If you're shaking your head and wondering how to achieve this glorious trifecta of sleep, less screen time and more physical exercise for your child, there's room to breathe. The study's researchers found that even improving one aspect of your kid's life (for example, just limiting screen time or making sure they get more sleep) was linked to improved cognition. Whew. One step at a time.

The bummer: This study determined that only (*gulp*) 1 in 20 U.S. kids met all three guidelines of lots of sleep, less than two hours of precious screen time and daily physical exercise. And nearly 1 in 3 U.S. kids met none of these guidelines at all. Damn it, Canada. Way to call us out.

Forbes also cited a Korean study in which researchers found evidence of altered brain chemistry in young men who were identified as addicted to their screens. Sci-fi is real, people.

Walsh did add that more research is required to differentiate the impact of educational vs. entertainment screen time on kids. But, yeah, we're pretty sure five hours straight of Fortnite is bad across the board. Maybe there's still time to homeschool out of a tablet-free yurt in South Dakota.

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