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Kids Want More Than One Screen These Days

August 3, 2011

A new study examining the relationships between children and electronic viewing devices shows that children are using sometimes up to five screens at a time and are bored focusing on just one screen, according to researchers.

Children are using mobile phones, laptops, televisions and game consoles continuously throughout their daily life. They text their friends during commercials on TV, use Facebook when their parents are watching their own shows on TV, and even play electronic handheld games while they are waiting for their laptop to start up.

The new research, carried out by researchers at Bristol and Loughborough universities, and published in the BioMed Central’s International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggests that the obesity lifestyle of children and the increased amounts of time they spend playing games and watching TV leads to obesity, lower mental well-being, and health problems later in life.

The researchers say campaigns to reduce “screen time” will only work if people understand how children use technology, and why.

The team of researchers undertook focus groups with 63 primary school children aged 10 and 11.

“The children in this study often had access to at least five different devices at any one time, and many of these devices were portable,” said Russell Jago of Bristol University’s Center for Exercise, Nutrition and Health.

“This meant that children were able to move the equipment between their bedrooms and family rooms, depending on whether they wanted privacy or company,” Jago told the Telegraph. “So simply removing the television from a child’s room may not be enough to address the health concerns and we need to work with families to develop strategies to limit the overall time spent multi-screen viewing wherever it occurs within the home.”

Of the children in the focus group, about 75 percent had access to handheld gaming devices like Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. About 70 percent of the children had access to a laptop and half had access to a smartphone.

Researchers, asking each child how they used those devices, got similar responses from each child. One typical response was: “On my DSi I’m on MSN and on my laptop I’m on Facebook and then the TV is on.”

Television is no longer the main electronic device children use; it is simply a background activity for them, except for when there is something specific they like to watch.

“For many children the television was just used as a method of filling time while they waited for a game to load on the laptop,” the researchers noted.

“The children in this study often had access to at least five different devices at any one time, and many of these devices were portable. This meant that children were able to move the equipment between their bedrooms and family rooms, depending on whether they wanted privacy or company,” Jago noted. “So simply removing the TV from a child’s room may not be enough to address the health concerns and we need to work with families to develop strategies to limit the overall time spent multi-screen viewing wherever it occurs within the home.”

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