PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Over the past year and a half, experts have said to “follow the science” but that doesn’t just apply to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many elementary students in Rhode Island, going online to use educational websites is a huge part of their school day and homework.

“I have a concern because studies in young children by others, in term children, have shown brian changes from excessive screen time,” Dr. Betty Vohr, medical director of the neonatal follow-up clinic at Women and Infants Hospital, said.

Vohr’s study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics last month, found a negative link between high screen time in young kids and their learning behavior.

She looked specifically at the link between high levels of screen time among premature babies and their brain development at six and seven years old.

“High screen time had negative effects on child’s development of cognitive skills, executive function skills, and on their behavior [regardless of content],” Vohr explained. “The peak screen time in our group was 40 hours per week.”

Dr. Michael Robb, senior director of Research for Common Sense Media, says studies suggest content does make a difference.

“It’s less about the time and kind of like what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with,” he said. “To treat what you’re doing for school as the same as what you’re doing for Fortnite, as the same as zooming with a family member, which is the same as reading an e-book, which is the same as watching six hours of Netflix, that’s a mistake.”

Instead, Robb encourages parents to shift their eye to their child, instead of just the time.

“Are they sleeping enough? Are they getting good food? Are they doing their school work? Are they going outside playing with friends?” Robb asked. “If they’re doing all the things we know are good for kids, then you don’t have to count every minute of screentime.”

Vohr says she believes there is a positive component to embracing screen time since it can stimulate learning and can also be interactive.

“But I do think we’re going to have to monitor the total amount of time in terms of hours per day between school and academic activities, and home recreational activities before we know the total impact,” she said.

Vohr’s study didn’t distinguish between the different types of screen time, and it was also conducted before the pandemic hit so it didn’t factor in the screentime increase during distance learning.

“We’re going to have to look now at the long-term follow-up of children during this pandemic relative to their screen time,” Vohr said.

In the meantime, neither Common Sense Media nor the American Academy of Pediatrics offers a recommended number of hours of screen time for school-aged children like they do for younger ones.

Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers a questionnaire for you to develop a family media use plan.