Yes, you read that right. Screen time can damage your child’s developing brain.
It’s no secret that, over the years, there has been increased use of television, mobile phones, and other electronic gadgets with adults and children. What you may not know is a new study now confirms that screen time inhibits brain development in children.
According to an article published by CNN Health, high screen time has a negative effect on the developing brain. The researchers studied brain scans of preschoolers and discovered that the children, ages 3 to 5, have less white matter.
The more screen time, the less visible the brain’s white matter becomes. Letting your children use mobile devices for more than an hour a day can have a significant impact on their fragile brains. Remember, the white matter plays an important role in literacy and in cognitive and language skills.
Another journal published Nov. 4, 2019 supports this conclusion. JAMA Pediatrics reports on a study that Dr. John S. Hutton and his group conducted on 47 preschool-aged children. They found that the kids who logged high screen time exhibited low levels of white matter tracts.
Screen-based activities affect the ability to think clearly
If a child’s screen time is not reduced, it will impact their performance in school. Another JAMA Pediatrics study showed that high screen use affects attention span and keeps children from thinking sharply.
Watching TV and video games were linked to terrible academic performance among children and adolescents. The negative effect was larger for adolescents than for younger children.
In addition, high screen use also had adverse effects on behavior, memory, learning, social interaction,and sleep. Poor sleep contributes to other problems, such as hyperactivity and other behavioral issues.
Dr. Hutton is worried that children are being exposed to screen media so early in life. He shared that around 90% of all children are consuming screen-based activities by the tender age of 1. Additionally, he revealed that there are studies that show infants as young as 2 months old are already using screens.
The white matter matters
The studies used diffusion tensor imaging, a new kind of MRI, to scan the brain’s white matter of 27 girls and 20 boys. According to Dr. Hutton, white matter is like the “cables” of the brain. It is responsible for making connections between the different regions of the brain. Without it, the various brains sections aren’t able to communicate with each other.
Hence, a less developed white matter can lead to a slow processing speed because there aren’t enough cables to connect the integral parts. If you want to develop your child’s brain, invest in activities such as reading books or playing an instrument. Doing these activities on a regular basis enhances development of the white matter.
Of course, in this digital era, we cannot really totally eradicate exposure to TV screens and mobile phones. However, we can lessen the amount of time allocated to these screens.
Follow the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics
As parents, you might be thinking “Where do I start?” First, don’t panic. You can look at this as a chance to make things right. Ultimately, it is in our hands to decide to correct bad habits.
The American Academy of Pediatrics website published a list of guidelines for everyone to follow. Here are the new policy recommendations that parents can impose on their children:
- If your child is 18 months or younger, refrain from any media use. Avoid using screen media as a way to entertain infants. Instead, make time for activities such as singing, laughing, walking, talking, and bonding emotionally.
- For children 2 to 5 years old, allow only one hour a day. Going beyond that can have consequences. Moreover, parents should supervise what the children are viewing. Sit with your children when they watch so that you can help them understand what is reflected on screen.
- For children 6 and older, there should still be limited time on devices. At this point, it is important to set specific rules. This ensures that screen time will not hamper activities crucial to their health and development such as sleeping, outdoor playing, and other physical activities.
Establish a media plan for the entire family
The AAP reminds everyone to make a plan. In your own home, you can set media-free areas, such as bedrooms. Computer games and watching TV should be done in a recreational room. There should also be media-free hours, like when one is driving and during dinner.
Most important, take time to strengthen offline connections instead of finding validation online. Set an example for the younger generation and talk to actual people rather than sending texts.
In the end, the real-life bonds you form along the way are more fulfilling and satisfying.
Track the time spent consuming media
To help you plan your family’s media use, the American Academy of Pediatrics launched a tool on the HealthyChildren.org.
With the advent of streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon, and many others, children are growing up obsessed with entertainment. They have access on TV, on the computer, and on their phones. That is why the AAP developed a media time calculator in order to help kids avoid the negative impact of high screen use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has just one goal and that is to help parents regulate their children’s screen time. Their evidence-based tool aims to maintain a healthy media environment and make media time productive.