The Link Between too Much Tech and Academic Success and Wellness

homework - father and children using computer for homework
Tech devices can be helpful for learning, but too much screen time is linked with kids not finishing homework. Hero Images/Getty Images

Among the many benefits that have been linked to limiting screen time—including improved sleep, decreased body mass index, and even decreased aggression—is one that's especially important for school-age kids: improved academic performance. Not surprisingly, research has also found that the more kids use tech devices, the less likely they are to finish their homework.

In an abstract presented at the October 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conference, researchers from Brown University presented the findings of their study entitled, “Digital Media Exposure in School‐Aged Children Decreases the Frequency of Homework.” Using data from the 2011‐2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, the researchers examined data about the media use and homework habits of more than 64,000 children ages 6 to 17 years.

(Digital media included TV, computers, video games, tablets and smartphones, and other screen devices that were used by kids for something other than school work.) The research showed a clear link between higher screen use and a decreased likelihood that kids would complete their school assignments. Some highlights of the findings:

  • Until their new October, 2016 guidelines, the AAP used to recommend that kids spend less than two hours a day on screen time, yet fewer than 31 percent of children fit into that category, says study author Stephanie Ruest, MD, a doctor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at Hasbro Children's Hospital and a MPH candidate at the Brown University School of Public Health, Providence, RI. (The AAP's new guidelines that recommend limiting screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programs for kids 2 to 5 years of age and consistent limits on screen time for kids ages 6 and older.)
  • Compared to children who spend less than two hours a day on screens, kids who used digital media devices for non-school-related purposes for two to four hours a day were 23 percent less likely to always or usually finish their homework.
  • More digital media use made things much worse: The study found that compared to children who used screens for less than 2 hours per day, kids who spent four to six hours on screens had 49 percent lower rate of always or usually finishing their homework and children with six or more hours of media use were 63 percent less likely to always or usually finish their homework.
  • As many as 36 percent used digital media for two to four hours each day; 17 percent used screens as much as to four to six hours a day; and as many as 17 percent of children used media for more than 6 hours a day.
  • Among children exposed to less than two hours a day, only 65 percent of kids were given any limits. (Examples of limits include things like parents telling kids they needed to turn off the TV after a certain set time; restrictions on cell phones being at the dinner table; or not allowing young children to view content that's rated TV-14 or older.)

Factors to Keep in Mind About Kids and Media Use

Set limitations and expectations early. Start setting limits on what children can see and do on tech devices when they are young, and be consistent and firm about the amount of time they can spend on screens.

Have a media plan. You wouldn't let your child eat unlimited amounts of all kinds of junk food; the media they consume should also be overseen and limited by parents. Healthychildren.org has a useful tool that helps parents plan kids' media use, says Dr. Ruest.

Keep track of how media use can add up in a typical day. "We sometimes don't realize the additive effect of kids' media use," says Dr. Ruest. "Ten minutes on the iPad, fifteen minutes on the computer—over the course of time, it can add up to a lot."

Don't forget about background noise. These days, kids and adults often have multiple tech devices going at the same time. A child may be on her smartphone posting something on Instagram with the TV on while doing homework. Turn everything off to help your child focus and designate some times of the day and areas of the house scree-free. For instance, banish cell phones from the family dinner table and keep all screens—including TVs and computers—out of bedrooms.

It's not just about homework. The study found that in addition to completing homework assignments, other markers of a child's overall well-being, called "childhood flourishing"—always or usually caring about doing well in school; finishing tasks that are started; being interested in learning new things; and staying calm when faced with challenges—decreased with increased amounts of time spent on screens, regardless of the child's gender, age, or socioeconomic status.

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