You can’t avoid them. Especially now. Screens are everywhere and we rely heavily on them for daily life: schools, work, shopping, games, information, directions, etc. Without our beloved t.v., iPad, iPhone and laptops we’d be lost. How would you figure out a stores phone number? Or directions to the hike you’ve never been on?

While us older generations understand what the world was like pre-smartphones, most children born in the 2000’s and beyond have only known a world where they can access everything from the palm of their hand. Smartphones and laptops are incredible tools that provide us a lot of information — but are they really making us smarter? What are they really doing to our children’s developing brains? Let’s take a look at the research…..

  • a new study scanned the brains of children 3 to 5 years old and found those who used screens more than the recommended one hour a day without parental involvement had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter — an area key to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.
  • Studies have shown excessive TV viewing is linked to the inability of children to pay attention and think clearly, while increasing poor eating habits and behavioral problems. 
  • Associations have also been shown between excessive screen time and language delay, poor sleep, impaired executive function, and a decrease in parent-child engagement.
  • Another study on 47 healthy children going into kindergarten showed that children who used more than the AAP’s recommended amount of screen time, of an hour a day without parental interaction, had more disorganized, underdeveloped white matter throughout the brain.
  • Excessive screen time was significantly associated with poorer emerging literacy skills and ability to use expressive language, as well as testing lower on the ability to rapidly name objects on cognitive tests taken by the 47 children in the study.

We know that the first few years of life are imperative for development of the brain through movement, sensory information, and engagement with loved ones. The first years of life need to be focused on human interactions that encourage speaking, interacting socially and playing with loving caregivers to develop thinking, problem-solving and other executive skills.

Social technology and gaming are created using a reward system in the brain. You click on something and get something in return — it turns into a positive reinforcement loop meant to keep you clicking and coming back for more. Great for the companies that have created the products and advertisements, but not good for our children. School-age children and young adults are still developing their critical thinking brain. They are neurologically unable to understand they are being manipulated by technology, and in turn become addicted. Heck, some adults don’t understand that either!

Screens should be a tool we use. Not a tool that uses us.

Since smartphones were introduced in 2007 that rates of loneliness and depression in teenagers and younger children has spiked. This isn’t surprising as we know, from a neurological perspective, that gaming and social media both increase the use of the left brain hemisphere, making it stronger. The left brain hemisphere is the one that is more aggressive, depressed, addictive in nature, and has less inhibition.

So what can you do to help decrease screen time? Make sure any child under 2 years old does not have any screen time, I’m saying ZERO time. Children 3-5 should have less than an hour. School age children should have less then 3 hours per day. Now that many children are doing school online that means you’ll have to take away screens the other hours of the day. We are the parents and need to set guidelines that are going to help them be healthy and successful in life.

Resources:

https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/04/health/screen-time-lower-brain-development-preschoolers-wellness/index.html

https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/groundbreaking-study-examines-effects-of-screen-time-on-kids-60-minutes/

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