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A new article in PLOS ONE reports on an association between heavy television use and poorer reading performance in 8-11 year olds, as well as between heavy computer use and poorer numeracy–the ability to work with numbers.

The researchers (Lisa K. Mundy, Louise Canterford, Monsurul Hoq, Timothy Olds, Margarita Moreno-Betancur, Susan Sawyer, Silja Kosola, and George C. Patton) studied 1,239 8- to 9-year olds in Melbourne, Australia using national achievement test data to measure the children’s academic performance at baseline and again after two years. They also asked the children’s parents to report on their kids’ use of electronic media. They found that watching two or more hours of television per day at the age of 8 or 9 was associated with lower reading performance compared to peers two years later; the difference was equivalent to losing four months of learning. Using a computer for more than one hour per day was linked to a similar degree of lost numeracy. The analysis showed no links between use of videogames and academic performance.

Here’s the abstract and reference (including a link to the article):

Introduction

The effects of electronic media use on health has received much attention but less is known about links with academic performance. This study prospectively examines the effect of media use on academic performance in late childhood.

Materials and methods

1239 8- to 9-year-olds and their parents were recruited to take part in a prospective, longitudinal study. Academic performance was measured on a national achievement test at baseline and 10–11 years of age. Parents reported on their child’s duration of electronic media use.

Results

After control for baseline reading, watching more than two hours of television per day at 8–9 years of age predicted a 12-point lower performance in reading at 10–11 years, equivalent to the loss of a third of a year in learning. Using a computer for more than one hour a day predicted a similar 12-point lower numeracy performance. Regarding cross-sectional associations (presumed to capture short-term effects) of media use on numeracy, after controlling for prior media exposure, watching more than two hours of television per day at 10–11 years was concurrently associated with a 12-point lower numeracy score and using a computer for more than one hour per day with a 13-point lower numeracy performance. There was little evidence for concurrent effects on reading. There was no evidence of short- or long-term associations between videogame use and academic performance.

Discussion

Cumulative television use is associated with poor reading and cumulative computer use with poorer numeracy. Beyond any links between heavy media use and health risks such as obesity, physical activity and mental health, these findings raise a possibility of additional risks of both television and computer use for learning in mid-childhood. These findings carry implications for parents, teachers and clinicians to consider the type and timing of media exposure in developing media plans for children.

Mundy, L. K., Canterford, L., Hoq, M., Olds, T., Moreno-Betancur, M., Sawyer, S., Kosola, & Patton, G. C. (2020). Electronic media use and academic performance in late childhood: A longitudinal study. PLOS ONE, 15(9), e0237908 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237908

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