Using two screens at once ‘harms children’s mental health more than video games’

Children who use more than one form of media at the same suffer more with mental health problems than those who spend several hours a day playing online games, a study has found.

The findings indicate that it is not the duration of a child’s screen time that leads to mental health problems but the nature of their online habits. In the UK, children aged between five and 16 spend on average 6.3 hours a day looking at a screen.

European scientists gave a questionnaire to 118 children aged between eight and 12 at a public primary school in Geneva, Switzerland. It revealed that, while children consume more digital media as they get older, this is not always bad for their mental well-being.

“We observe that children consume large amounts of media and media multi-task substantially,” said Dr Pedro Cardoso-Leite, the study’s co-author from the University of Luxembourg.

“Partial correlation analyses show that media multi-tasking specifically was mostly correlated with negative mental health, while playing video games was associated with faster responding and better mental health.”

Behavioural problems at home and at school

Both overall media consumption and multi-tasking, such as listening to music while scrolling through social media, increased as children got older, the researchers found.

At the age of 12, they spent on average eight hours and 14 minutes a day on digital devices, compared to just four hours and 28 minutes at the age of eight.

Children who multi-tasked were more likely to suffer from mental health problems, including higher levels of distress, lower socio-emotional functioning, less sleep and behavioural problems at home and at school. Those who played video games were less likely to suffer the same problems.

Dr Cardoso-Leite said: “It is not uncommon to read that time in front of screens should be limited. The present paper indicates that such aggregate measures of media consumption are not sufficient and documents that the type of media used, as well as how they are consumed, both matter.”

There was no difference in multi-tasking scores or how much media was consumed overall between boys and girls. Only when it came to video games did boys spend more time per day than girls, the researchers found.

The findings were published in the journal Plos One.

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