After 45 minutes of media use, children’s grades, sleep, social skills, and emotional balance start to decline, according to the Learning Habit Study. After 4 hours, only 1% of children in middle school receive A’s in mathematics and English Language Arts.

After 4 hours of screen time, children take 20 times longer to fall asleep than children with limited media use. Dr Robert Pressman, research director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology and lead researcher of the Learning Habit study, says in a release, “Recently, there have been strong suggestions about the need to limit children’s screen time. This is the first time we can make recommendations based on specific learning outcomes, such as a grade point average.”

Published today in the American Journal of Family Therapy and in a book titled The Learning Habit, results from the research team from Brown University School of Medicine, Brandeis University, Children’s National Medical Center, and New England Center for Pediatric Psychology found that “empowerment parenting” is more effective than “traditional parenting” methods. The largest psycho-social research study to look at the influence of the home environment on school-age children identified this parenting style as the most powerful influence on children’s academic success. The Learning Habit study identified other factors of significance.

Additional Findings:

  • School: Nearly 38% of all primary school children depend on their parents to go to school to pick up forgotten items. These figures fluctuate between the ages of 5 and 9, but remain at the 38% mark throughout the remaining school years.
  • Parenting Style: Empowerment parenting, a style using thoughtful rules and effort-based praise to reward desired behavior, is most effective for developing grit and social skills.
  • Grit: Over 40% of parents report that their child will quit when asked to perform a strenuous or difficult task. Media use was found to have a detrimental effect on grit scores.
  • Chores: Researchers indicate that habits regarding chores, studying, and media consumption do not change after the age of 9, without parental intervention. Two activities that influence grit scores in children are media use and household chores.
  • Homework: 10 minutes of homework per grade in school was positively correlated with children’s GPA. Excess time on academic homework showed no additional benefit.

Grit, the ability to persevere regardless of obstacles, is the character trait most closely related to academic achievement. Dr Melissa Nemon, Brandeis University and lead statistician for the Learning Habit Study, says, “The evidence from the study shows that consistently doing household chores has positive effects on children’s grit formation.”

“These results demonstrate the potential consequences of uncontrolled screen time for children. Now that parents can connect the amount of media use to sleep, grades, and social skills, they can make incremental changes to promote learning and build grit,” says Rebecca Jackson, co-author of The Learning Habit book.

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Clinical Director at the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, says, “The good news for parents is that children’s learning habits can be positively shaped by empowerment parenting techniques. When children are encouraged to persist, to try new things, and to take more responsibility for things they can control, they develop grit. These children learn from their mistakes and develop better decision-making skills than kids who aren’t held accountable.”

The Learning Habit project is the culmination of 3 years of research, including an online study conducted during the fall of 2013 that examined family routines in 46,000 US homes of children in grades K-12.