Parents who leave their children to watch television or use computers for many hours risk blunting their academic progress, according to findings of a research published yesterday.
The research found that Grade 3 students who watch more than two hours of television daily or spend more than one hour a day on a computer drop in academic results two years later.
Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) noted that the effects of electronic media on physical and mental health have received much attention but this new study linked its use to academic performance.
Titled Electronic media use and academic performance in late childhood: A longitudinal study, the report shows that heavy television use at eight to nine years of age negatively affects reading, equivalent to a loss of four months in learning by 10 to 11 years and heavy computer use predicted a similar loss in numeracy.
During the survey, 1,239 children were recruited from the Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS) whose academic performance was measured in Grade 3 and later in Grade 5 using the National Assessment Programme - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results.
The survey found out Grade 3 students who watched more than two hours of TV a day or used a computer for more than one hour a day predicted a 12-point lower performance in reading and numeracy at Grade 5 compared with their peers who consumed less.
The results also show that watching more than two hours of TV a day in Grade 5 was associated with 12-point lower numeracy and reading scores, and using a computer for more than one hour a day with a 14-point lower numeracy result than their peers.
It shows there was no evidence of short or long-term links between videogame use and academic performance, despite finding that one in five children did not play videogames in Grade 3, whereas by Grade 5 this increased to one in four. A quarter played more than one hour of videogames a day in Grade 3, which increased to nearly a third in Grade 5.
Lisa Mundy of MCRI, who is the lead author of the report, said electronic media use had become the most popular leisure-time activity for children but could affect primary school academic performance by reducing physical activity, sleep or time spent on homework and had the potential to diminish concentration.
"The mid-primary school years are a time when academic difficulties are often first evident and predictive of lower academic performance and school dropout later," Mundy said.
She observed that the middle years are also a time when children's electronic media use dramatically rises and children have more say over the media they consume."
George Patton from MCRI said the findings carried implications for parents, teachers and clinicians to consider the type and timing of television and computer exposure in developing media plans for children.
He said the data was also timely given the move to remote learning due to Covid-19 and raised important issues around the best way for students to transition back into classrooms. "The question about the effects of modern media on children's learning has never been more important given the effects of the pandemic on children's use of time," Patton said.
He said the study underlines the importance of children moving safely back into classrooms and face-to-face learning with their teachers.
The researchers said minimising the risks from the spread of Covid-19 as well as re-engaging with students will undoubtedly be a challenge for all schools.