PARIS, Jan 3 — Children’s screen time doesn’t have to have a negative impact on their health and literacy skills. It could even have a positive impact on reading and writing if parents are part of the viewing activity, reveals a new Australian study.

Rather than focusing on the amount of time spent in front of screens, the emphasis should be on discussions about the content viewed.

A new study coming out of Australia challenges the established link between the amount of time children can spend in front of a screen and potential problems in their development, academic skills and health.

This meta-analysis, covering a sample of 1.9 million children and adolescents, published in Nature Human Behaviour, even suggests that time spent in front of the TV or computer can bring potential benefits for children’s general reading and writing skills, as long as these moments are shared with their parents.

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“That means that taking the time to watch screens with kids could be a good thing,” explains Rebecca Rolland, speech pathologist and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in an article she wrote for Psychology Today.

This discovery highlights the importance of the quality of interaction during screen time, rather than its quantity. According to Rolland, the real question is not so much how much time a child spends in front of a screen, but what they do when they’re in front of a screen, and the interactivity that can take place as a result.

“There’s talking on video chat or Zoom versus playing Roblox with friends, versus making videos to put on TikTok — versus simply scrolling. It’s important to keep in mind that all of these happen on the screen. But they’re actually different activities — and affect kids in different ways.”

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Fewer limits but more interactions

While some aspects of screen time are associated with negative effects, such as excessive social media use and its links to depression in adolescents, the study highlights the need for balance.

The researchers recommend a nuanced approach, taking into account the potential benefits and risks associated with different types of screen use.

“Younger kids, especially two and a half and younger, can have trouble distinguishing reality from fiction on the screen. Screen time for them is more likely to be problematic — especially if it takes away from the critical interactions they need with real-life people,” adds Rebecca Rolland.

These findings may open up new perspectives for parents and educators regarding how screen time is integrated into children’s daily lives. Rather than imposing strict limits, the emphasis should be on enriching and educational interactions that are linked to screen time.

“Next time you’re with the kids in your life, keep that in mind. Use the technology to jumpstart conversations. Ask open-ended questions. See what your kids are using the screens for. Help them use screens in more active ways,” advises Rebecca Rolland. “

And, for teens especially, encourage cutting down on social media if they’re using it a lot. Help them see which apps and interactions are most important to them, and focus only on those. You’ll be helping them with their self-awareness and mental health.”

Indeed, caution is not to be thrown to the wind. Guidelines “should say avoid keeping your kids sedentary for long periods of time and if you are going to give them screen time choose to give them something that is engaging and beneficial,” emphasised lead researcher Dr Taren Sanders of Australian Catholic University in a media release. — ETX Studio