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: A pandemic wakeup call? Middle schoolers should not spend more than 1 hour of recreation on screens

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Parents will laugh, worry or do both.

Researchers advise young teens to only devote one hour on school days to recreational internet and video games.

The study from Rutgers University researchers surveyed Chinese middle schoolers over a multi-year span and found that those who reported playing more than one hour on school days and more than four hours on weekends tended to have lower grades, a higher tendency to skip school, and a greater chance of feeling bored in class.

Though the study is based on surveys commenced years before the pandemic, the findings “are critical, particularly in light of the recent movement toward online learning in countries throughout the world,” said lead author Vivien (Wen Li) Anthony, an assistant professor at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work.

“In a learning environment that integrates the internet, it is easy for children to move across educational and entertainment platforms during learning without alerting teachers or adults to alternate activities,” noted Anthony, who is affiliated with the school’s Center for Gambling Studies.


Children should not spend more than a maximum 4 hours of recreational screen time on weekends.


— Vivien Anthony (Wen Li) Anthony, an assistant professor at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work

Children should not spend more than a maximum 4 hours of recreational screen time on weekends, according to the conclusions of Anthony and her fellow authors at Rutgers University and Renmin University of China.

The study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, surveyed approximately 10,000 students that started in 2013-2014 and involved a follow-up interview one year later. The average age was 13.5 years old.

The one-hour screen time recommendation joins a list of other recommendations on recreational screen time that are also pretty slim on minutes.

For example, the World Health Organization says children between the ages of 2 and 4 shouldn’t have more than one hour of screen time. Many American kids around that demographic already blow past that limit.

On average, children up to age 8 consume nearly 2.5 hours of screen time daily, according to a Common Sense Media report released last year, using data and interviews that occurred before the first shutdown orders began to hit.


Before the pandemic, 8- to 12-year-olds were spending nearly 5 hours per day entertaining themselves via a screen.


— Common Sense Media, a non-profit focused on children and media consumption

Even as some big school districts like New York City and states like New Jersey say they’ll fully end remote schooling next school year, these conclusions serve as a reminder on how deeply screens are ingrained in children’s lives — and what’s at stake.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit America last spring, state shutdown orders required many schools to teach remotely. As many students, parents and teachers figured out how to teach and learn via Zoom
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classroom, that created the chance for more screen time — educational and otherwise.

Even before the pandemic, one 2019 estimate from Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization focused on children and media consumption, said 8- to 12-year-olds, on average, were spending nearly 5 hours per day entertaining themselves via a phone, tablet or computer. For teens, the average number was nearly 7.5 hours.

From 2019 to 2020, the average time kids spent on YouTube, YouTube Kids and Twitch, a video game streaming platform, all jumped, according to Qustodio, a parental control app with more than 2 million users.

The company’s report, released last month, looked at anonymized data from 100,000 families in America, the United Kingdom and Spain.


The allure of games and social media might easily distract kids from their studies, and may also contribute to poor study habits.

For example, the average daily app use of YouTube Kids jumped to 73 minutes from 55 minutes year-over-year among users analyzed in America. For YouTube, the analyzed usage went to 71 minutes in 2020 to 63 minutes in 2019.

In the latest study, the researchers offered some theories on why students who spent lengthier times playing around tended to have lower academic performance. For one thing, the allure of games and social media might easily distract kids from their studies, and may also contribute to poor study habits.

The researchers cautioned that that weren’t calling for total bans on recreational screen. The students who played under one hour each school day reported less boredom at school. For one thing, playing online with friends could help students bond with their peers at school, the researchers said.

The study, like all such research, has its limits. For one thing, the focus on Chinese students means it may be difficult to transplant the findings to other places, the authors said.

Likewise, they noted the findings are based on data coming in two installments over a several-year span, so they said it is difficult to assess what long-term effects, if any, may apply.

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