Preliminary results from The Learning Habit Survey (LHS), an online national research project that polled 21,145 parents are providing data about children’s behavior. The survey was designed to study the interaction of three global variables – family time, exposure to electronic media and parenting style – with children’s social interaction, academic performance, homework, attentiveness, sleep patterns and emotional regulation.
Findings from the study, undertaken by the Brown University School of Medicine, the Children’s National Medical Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, were published in the Sept. 2 edition of “The American Journal of Family Therapy.”
While the LHS did not reveal anything that would be considered surprising, the study did produce concrete, measurable information about subjects for which there had been no previous hard data.
“Nothing came out as shocking,” says Robert Pressman, Ph.D., ABPP, director of research at the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology in Providence, R.I., and principal investigator.
The study, verified much of what mental health professionals, parents, teachers and pediatricians believe to be true. “There are a lot of assumptions about what we think is happening with families and children today,” notes Melissa L. Nemon, Ph.D., a senior research associate and lecturer at Brandeis University and the project’s chief statistician.
“They’re mostly anecdotal. Until science can prove it, it’s not a fact. A lot of the things we assume, such as high rates of media use can have negative impacts on socialization skills and grades – we found data that actually supports that,” she says.
Screen time – a child’s daily dose of video games, television and texting – was found to negatively impact grades, homework, ability to focus, social interaction, emotional regulation and sleep. For students who did not engage in media usage, the average GPA was 3.47. With more than four hours of screen time, the average GPA dipped below 2.4.
The Learning Habit Survey also showed that increased family time resulted in higher grades, emotional stability and less screen time. Parenting styles were also a major factor. “Empowerment parenting,” focused on positive reinforcement, resulted in higher grades, better social adjustment and fewer sleep-related problems, the study says.
“The power of family is extraordinary and affects so many other variables,” says Pressman.
This study has spawned a book, “The Learning Habit: A Groundbreaking Approach to Homework and Parenting That Helps Our Children Succeed in School and Life” that was co-authored by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, LICSW, clinical director of New England Center for Pediatric Psychology; Robert Pressman; and Rebecca Jackson, a neuropsychological educator.
The book translates the Learning Habit Study into user-friendly dialogue that can be put into practice by parents, educators and pediatricians. “The book was written because the three authors are all parents, and we all work with families and children,” Donaldson-Pressman says.
“Every day, we see the effects of screen time, sleep problems and homework stress on families. We wanted to present the study findings in a way that the people responsible for guiding our children had access to this information.”
The LHS authors plan to undertake additional analysis and present new findings. The foundation for change, however, has already been established.
“A study like this gives a lot of folks information and grounded data that help support good interventions and change,” says Nemon. “It’s much more actionable than just telling us what we’re doing wrong.”
By Howard Newman