After concussion, some screen time may be better than none

Doctors typically recommend children should avoid electronic devices with screens after suffering from a concussion. But a new Canadian study suggests that while too much screen time can hinder recovery, banning screen time altogether may not be the answer, either.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, involved researchers from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary. They looked at more than 700 children aged eight to 18 who had suffered a concussion in the last seven to 10 days.

The researchers followed up with the children and their caregivers over a six-month period and found that the children who had exhibited the fastest recovery had also reported engaging in a moderate amount of screen time (around 4.4 hours per day). Lead author Molly Cairncross calls this group the “Goldilocks group.”

“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,” Cairncross, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, said in a news release.

The children who reported engaging in low amounts of screen time (2.2 hours per day) as well as high amounts of screen time (7.5 hours per day) were both associated with more severe symptoms in the first 30 days after injury. However, after 30 days, the differences in recovery were negligible.

“The amount of time spent in front of screens during the early recovery period made little difference to long-term health outcomes,” he said. “After 30 days, children who suffered a concussion or another type of injury reported similar symptoms, regardless of their early screen use.”

These findings stand in contrast to a US study from last year, which found that screen time was detrimental to recovery. However, that study only measured screen time in the first 48 hours after injury.

However, the researchers note that other variables, such as age, sex, and lifestyle, had a far greater effect on concussion recovery. Girls and teenagers were associated with more severe post-concussion symptoms over time while children who napped more, got less sleep and had more pre-injury screen time also exhibited worse symptoms.

“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,” Cairncross said. “Those things are likely to have a negative effect on kids’ mental health and that can make recovery take longer.”