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expert reaction to screen media use and academic performance

Research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, reports on the relationship between different types of screen use in adolescence and academic performance. 


Dr Bernadka Dubicka, Chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Reviewing a large amount of data spanning the past six decades the authors examined different types of screen use. They found that the amount of overall screen use was not directly linked to academic performance in children and young people but that TV viewing and video games did have a negative effect on academic outcomes.

“This review highlights the complexity of the relationship between screen use and young people, and that different types of screen use and content can have different impacts, for instance using the internet for educational activities can have a positive impact on academic outcomes.

“However, the review is not able to assess the complex relationship between young people and screen use in detail, particularly in relation to today’s use including the use of social media and the impact of the content viewed.  Most of the studies used referred to TV viewing and video games, with only a small number looking at mobile phone and internet use highlighting that research has not kept pace with more recent uses of screens, such as tablets and smartphones which are now almost unavoidable in the lives of children and young people.

“More nuanced research is urgently needed examining how children and young people interact with screens. The research must look at the impact of screen use on the most vulnerable children and young people, such as those with mental illnesses, as they were excluded from this current study.”


Dr Kirsten Corder, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, said:

“This research supports concerns about TV viewing and potential negative links with academic performance in young people. However, this review in itself does not provide strong evidence that overall screen media use is linked to lower academic performance in children and adolescents.

“The finding that the amount of time spent on overall screen media use was not linked with academic performance appears to be subject to publication bias. i.e. where results in a particular direction (in this case possibly positive associations), are less likely to be published, this can limit the reliability of the result. The authors acknowledge that many of the included studies did not take account of other potentially important factors, including about home life and parents. This review did not consider non-screen behaviours such as homework and reading that may be important for academic outcomes.

“Although different types of screen time were included (including mobile phone use), only separate results for TV-viewing and video game use were reported, it would have been interesting to see if other common screen behaviours like social media use and computer-based homework were associated with academic performance. The questionnaires often used to measure screen-use in large studies usually do not provide detail about the type and content of screen use, which is necessary to understand potential links with academic performance and to help us work out how to improve it.

“The conclusion that professionals should think about screen use being monitored and supervised to improve academic success, is somewhat supported by the data. Based on the data presented, it appears that particularly TV viewing was negatively linked to some types of academic performance. Targeting passive screen use in programmes to improve academic performance will need to consider many other things, including the content of screen use.

“As this review only included data measured at one time point, the results do not suggest a causal relationship, but do align with other studies and reviews that suggest that reducing some types of screen time, particularly TV viewing, may be worth including in programmes aiming to improve academic performance. These results will hopefully encourage further research using techniques that allow researchers to explore how multiple behaviours may interplay to benefit academic performance.”


‘Association Between Screen Media Use and Academic Performance Among Children and Adolescents, A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’ by Mireia Adelantado-Renau et al. was published in JAMA Pediatrics at 16:00 UK time on Monday 23rd September. 

DOI: doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3176


Declared interests

Dr Kirsten Corder: No conflicts of interest. Kirsten Corder reports receiving the following grant: Lead Applicant – A cluster randomised controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the GoActive programme to increase physical activity among 13-14 year-old adolescents. Project: 13/90/18 National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research Programme Sept 2015 – Feb 2020.

None others received.

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