Some screen time better than none during children’s concussion recovery
Too much screen time can slow children’s recovery from concussions, but new research suggests that banning screen time is not the answer.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the University of British Columbia, led by Dr. Molly Cairncross, who is now a professor at Simon Fraser University, and the University of Calgary looked for links between the self-reported screen time of more than 700 children aged 8-16 in the first 7-10 days following an injury, and symptoms reported by them and their caregivers over the following six months.
The children whose concussion symptoms cleared up the fastest had engaged in a moderate amount of screen time.
“We’ve been calling this the ‘Goldilocks’ group, because it appears that spending too little or too much time on screens isn’t ideal for concussion recovery,” said Cairncross, an assistant professor of psychology at SFU who conducted the research while a postdoctoral fellow working with associate professor Dr. Noah Silverberg in UBC’s psychology department. “Our findings show that the common recommendation to avoid smartphones, computers and televisions as much as possible may not be what’s best for kids.”
The study was part of a larger concussion project called Advancing Concussion Assessment in Pediatrics (A-CAP) led by psychology professor Dr. Keith Yeates at the University of Calgary and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The data came from participants aged 8-16 who had suffered either a concussion or an orthopaedic injury, such as a sprained ankle or broken arm, and sought care at one of five emergency departments in Canada.
The purpose of including children who had orthopaedic injuries was to compare their recoveries with the group who had concussions.
Patients in the concussion group generally had relatively worse symptoms than their counterparts with orthopaedic injuries, but within the concussion group it was not simply a matter of symptoms worsening with more screen time. Children with minimal screen time recovered more slowly, too.
“Kids use smartphones and computers to stay connected with peers, so complete removal of those screens could lead to feelings of disconnection, loneliness and not having social support,” Dr. Cairncross said. “Those things are likely to have a negative effect on kids’ mental health and that can make recovery take longer.”
To read more about the study’s findings, see the University of British Columbia’s press release.