New research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has found a link between some electronic media and the mental health of young boys, aged eight to nine-years-old. Dr Lisa Mundy, who led the research, said it was the first large population-based study to show clear links between the amount of time spent using TV and video games, and emotional and behavioural problems in late childhood.
“This is an important age group to study, because it’s the age at which children’s use of media begins to escalate,” Dr Mundy explains. “It’s also an age at which children are highly sensitive, due to the huge biological, psychological and emotional development, which occurs during this phase of life.”
The research, which was published in Academic Paediatrics, found that there were specific types of electronic media associated with these problems among young boys. For example, a boy playing an average of two hours per day per week is 2.6 times more likely to have conduct and emotional problems. And a boy watching television for an average of two hours per day per week is 1.7 times more likely to have hyperactivity/inattention problems, it found.
Interestingly, the research found that girls of this age were not found to be affected in the same way. Researchers explained that different media may have different effects on the developing male and female brain, partly due to the way boys and girls consume and use media.
“It may be that the electronic media causes emotional and behavioural problems – or it may be that children with these problems spend more time using electronic media,” Dr Mundy explains.
“What’s important to note is how the nature of the media affects the experience,” she adds. “We know that at this age, playing video games tends to be a solitary experience, whereas watching TV is more likely to occur with the family.”
Dr Kristy Goodwin, an expert on the impact of technology on young children, says that rather than fearing or banning technology, we should aim to create healthy digital habits in our children. “The technology is here to stay so we have to show our children healthy and helpful ways to use it (so it doesn’t derail their development),” she says. “Technology is changing the ways young children learn, develop and play. We can use the available research to leverage technology to meet children’s developmental needs, help them learn and minimise any potential harmful effects.”
Read our article about getting the screen time balance just right for your family here.