Confirming most parents' worst fears, children who had more than two hours of screen time daily performed worse on the tests than kids who spent less time in front of a device.
However, only one in 20 United States children aged between 8-11 years meet the three recommendations advised by the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines to ensure good cognitive development - 9-11 hours of sleep, less than two hours of recreational screen time, and at least an hour of physical activity every day. Their findings were published by The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
A new study found that the average American child spends 3.6 hours a day watching TV, using a computer, or looking at their phone or tablet.
Half of the children met the sleep recommendation (51%, 2,303/4,520), 37% (1,655/4,520 children) met the screen time recommendation, and 18% (793/4,520 children) met the physical activity recommendation.
According to the study, as reported by the BBC, limiting screen time along with nine to 11 hours of sleep in children leads to better performance.
"This finding raises the possibility that daily recreational screen use in excess of 2 [hours] attenuates the benefits of sleep for cognition", the study's authors write. He added that good sleep and physical activity are associated with improved academic performance, better reaction time, attention, memory, and inhibition.
The researchers examined how meeting recommendations for 9-11 hours of sleep, less than two hours of recreational screen time, and at least an hour of physical activity every day affected children's cognition. "This study is showing that less than two hours of recreational screen time is beneficial for children".
For sleep and exercise, the recommendations align with those of the World Health Organization, but Canada is the first country to propose limits for time spent in front of a back-lit screen.
"Based on our findings, paediatricians, parents, educators and policymakers should promote limiting recreation screen time and prioritising healthy sleep routines during childhood and adolescence".
Almost 30 percent of children failed to meet any of the recommendations, more than 40 percent met only one, a quarter met two, and only five percent conformed to all three.
The researchers found that as each recommendation was met by a participant, there was a positive association with global cognition, which includes memory, attention, processing speed and language.
The study took place in the U.S, where children from 20 schools received cognition tests that aimed to measure their abilities. Furthermore, the more recommendations the children met, the better their cognitive abilities.
But some studies have suggested that the potential for damage is more about the type of content on these screens and whether parents are involved than about the amount of time using them.
"Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities", writes Eduardo Esteban Bustamante, a behavioral scientist at the University of IL, in a commentary that accompanies the study."In the case of evening screen use, this displacement may also be compounded by impairment of sleep quality".
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