Methods: This study used two waves of data from the China Education Panel Survey. A total of 9,449 7th graders (47.8% girls) were included for data analysis. Outcome variables include 1) academic and cognitive development, assessed via standardized test scores on Chinese, Math, English, and cognitive competencies; and 2) school engagement, assessed in the forms of truancy, having difficulty in concentrating in class, and feeling bored at school. In addition, the survey assessed the amount of time children spent on the Internet and video gaming for non-schoolwork related activities. Multilevel models were used to examine the effects of Internet use and gaming on children’s academic and cognitive development, and school engagement.
Results: More than 10% of children spent 2+ hours, and 3.7% spent 4+ hours using the Internet and/or playing video games for non-schoolwork related activities on a school day. Almost 30% of children surveyed reported devoting 2+ hours, and, 9.3%, 4+ hours, on non-schoolwork-related Internet use and/or gaming daily on the weekend. Compared to girls, boys spent more time on the Internet and gaming for entertainment.
The daily amount of non-schoolwork-related Internet use and gaming had nonlinear effects on academic and cognitive development as well as school engagement. For example, Internet use and gaming 1+ hours on a school day and 4+ hours at the weekend significantly decreased children’s cognitive, Chinese, Math, and English competencies one year later, with more use leading to greater declines. In contrast, using the Internet and/or gaming < 1 hour on the weekend slightly increased cognitive competency. Further, children who used the Internet and/or played video games 1+ hours on a school day and 4+ hours at the weekend experienced significantly higher odds of school disengagement, including truancy, having difficulty concentrating in class, and feeling bored at school. In contrast, Internet use and/or gaming < 1 hour daily at the weekend reduced the likelihood of feeling bored at school.
Conclusions and Implications: Overall, using the Internet and/or gaming for entertainment 1+ hours on a school day and 4+ hours daily at the weekend had adverse effects on children’s development in comprehensive cognitive, reading, writing, and mathematics competencies as well as on their school engagement. These findings support the need for interventions that effectively limit technology use for leisure activity among school-aged children. Findings and implications for research and practice will be discussed.