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Is there a link between screen time and academic performance?

Is there a link between screen time and academic performance?

4 min read
  • Phones, AI & technology

The conversation surrounding screen time and academic performance is never-ending. Researchers, teachers, parents and students are all eager to hear about the latest findings regarding the effects of screen time. So what are the specific effects of excessive screen time on academic performance? And how can we manage screen time to avoid as many of the negative effects as possible?

What does the research say?

meta-analysis of 30 studies found that students who spent more than two hours a day on TV or gaming, suffered a decline in academic achievement. Some researchers believe that watching TV or playing video games is taking over the time that would otherwise be used for physical activity or studying which can contribute to poor academic performance. 

Other research suggests that moderate use (around 4 hours a day) of any screens (phones, tablets, TV, etc.) can lead to lower psychological well-being. This can go towards creating demotivated learners who are unable to give 100% to the work they are doing, resulting in lower academic achievement. 

Research shows that the negative associations between screen time and academic performance are more significant for older students than for younger children. This may be because adolescents experience drops in psychological well-being more intensely, making the detrimental effects of screen time on their schoolwork even greater. It is also possibly caused by the different levels of access that these age groups have to screens. Teenagers are more able to make use of mobile phones, laptops and other screens, whereas younger children often have their screen time more closely monitored and restricted. 

While the different research mentioned above may vary in some regards, the general conclusions are the same: too much screen time is not good for students. Many students are not aware of these effects and continue to spend hours each day on their phones or watching TV. It is important for teachers and parents to make their students and children aware of these negative effects and encourage them to manage their screen time better.

Don’t let your students’ phone get in the way of their learning and well-being – help them develop key phone management skills.

How to manage screen time

For teenagers especially, it can be difficult to turn off a video game or put away their phones. It is easy to become engrossed in screens and not notice when hours have gone by – that is what they’re designed for, after all. However, the excess time spent on Fortnite or Instagram can be used much more productively. While telling students to cut down their screen time drastically may not lead to positive results, however with smaller steps, they can begin to see the benefits. 

Most phones have a feature that shows how much time you spend using it on a daily and weekly basis. By making use of this information, not only will students get a better idea of how much time they invest in their phone and are able to see which apps they’ve spent the most time on. This is a great indication of where the problem lies – and, subsequently, where the solution may be found.

Here are a few tips you can give students to help them better manage their screen time:

1. No phones in the classroom

Not having their phone on and ready to distract them from what they’re learning will help your students pay more attention to what they’re being taught. For the one hour they spend in the classroom, if they turn their phones off and they’ll see how much easier it is to focus.

2. Don’t take it to bed

Research has found that students who are on their phones in the hours before they sleep are almost three times as likely to get less than five hours of sleep. This can lead to sleepy learners and have further detrimental effects on grades. Encouraging students to put their phones in a different room or away from their beds before going to sleep can help them to wake up feeling more refreshed.

3. Balance, don’t ban

Excessive amounts of screen time is unhealthy, however occasionally spending some time on YouTube or passing a few levels on Candy Crush won’t do much harm. As long as students are getting plenty of sleep and are being physically active, it probably isn’t a bad thing.

Final thoughts

Excessive screen time can be problematic for student’s academic performance. The research continues to confirm this idea and demonstrates how spending hours in front of a TV or scrolling on a mobile phone can be detrimental to learning. Having no phones in the classroom and putting it away before bed will help motivate students and improve their focus. As with most things in life, balance is key. Don’t ask students to deprive themselves of screen time, but to make sure they don’t overdo it.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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