The kids won’t like this but two new studies have confirmed that too much television and too much time spend playing computer games is bad for physical and mental health.
An Australian-led study of more than 3,000 children found that watching TV, using computers and playing video games between the ages of two and six had an adverse effect on children’s wellbeing.
Using European data, the researchers found an impact two years later, including emotional and peer problems, self-esteem, emotional well-being, family functioning and social networks.
Dr Trina Hinkley of Deakin University says the risk of emotional problems and poorer family functioning increased with each additional hour of watching TV or electronic game and computer use.
The second study looked at the impact of a mother monitoring their child’s screen time.
US and Swedish scientists found mums who monitor the time their kids spend watching TV and playing video games have slimmer children than those who don’t, but the same isn’t true if it’s dad who’s in charge of the monitoring.
The studies are published today in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
For many parents of teenagers sequestered in darkened bedrooms for hours and days, surrounded by arrays of internet-wired screens ranging from matchbox to cinema size, the issue of harm from exposure to electronic media is a burning one.
Professor Tim Olds, from the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia, says most studies are consistent in showing that exposure to electronic media increases the risk of overweight and obesity, low levels of physical activity and poorer adult health.
“Our own data from a number of Australian studies have shown similar patterns,” he says.
“What is the link? It may be that electronic media replace social interaction, displace healthier activities like physical activity and sleep, or encourage poor nutritional habits such as grazing (snacks) and guzzling (soft drinks).”
In one study, having a television in the child’s bedroom was associated not only with poor well-being, low physical activity, more snacking, less sleep and increased fatness in the child, but also with increased fatness in parents.
Fifty-four per cent of low-income families had a TV in their child’s bedroom, compared to 21 per cent in high-income families.
However, kids rate electronic media use as one of the most enjoyable things they do.
In a sample of 11-12 year olds, videogames rated higher than any other activity (8.5 out of 10), compared to an average of 7.4 for all activities.
Computer use rated 7.8, and TV 7.6. Compare this to 7.9 for sport, 6.9 for reading, and 6.1 for study.
“The only light at the end of the tunnel seems to be the flicker of an iPad,” Professor Olds says.
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