Electronic media use linked to lower academic performance

Tuesday, 08 September, 2020

Electronic media use linked to lower academic performance

A new study of 8- to 11-year-olds reveals an association between heavy television use and poor reading performance, and links heavy computer use with less developed numeracy skills.

The study was conducted by Lisa Mundy of Melbourne's Murdoch Children's Research Institute. Mundy and colleagues published the findings in September on open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Previous studies of children and adolescents have found links between use of electronic media — including television, computers and videogames — and obesity, poor sleep and other physical health risks. Electronic media use is also associated with better access to information, tech skills and social connection. However, comparatively less is known about links with academic performance.

Mundy and colleagues studied 1239 8- to 9-year-olds in Melbourne and used national achievement test data to measure the children's academic performance at baseline and again after two years. Parents were asked to report on their children's use of electronic media.

Researchers found that watching two or more hours of television per day at age of eight or nine was associated with lower reading performance compared with 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 video games and academic performance.

By accounting for baseline academic performance and potentially influencing factors such as mental health difficulties and body mass index (BMI) and controlling for prior media use, the researchers were able to pinpoint cumulative television and computer use, as well as short-term use, as associated with poorer academic performance.

These findings could help parents, teachers and clinicians refine plans and recommendations for electronic media use in late childhood. Future research could build on these results by examining continued associations in later secondary school.

The authors added: "The debate about the effects of modern media on children's learning has never been more important given the effects of today's pandemic on children's use of time. This is the first large, longitudinal study of electronic media use and learning in primary school children, and results showed heavier users of television and computers had significant declines in reading and numeracy two years later compared with light users."

The full study can be found at PLOS ONE using this link.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/soupstock

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