What Happens to Children’s Brains When They Spend Too Much Time in Front of the Screen?

Consider this: According to Common Sense Media, nearly half of all children aged 8 and younger own a tablet device and spend an average of 2.25 hours each day on digital screens.

Digital screens could give you pros and will also give you the consequences of it, if its too much consumed by people especially kids. Digital screens would be very important for the future as well, as the time keep developing. Its very hard to avoid not wanting to use digital screens especially during this era where everything depends on technologies.

What is the impact of all this screen time on children’s brains?

According to preliminary findings from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018, children who spent more than two hours a day on digital screens-time activities performed worse on language and thinking tests, and some children who spent more than seven hours a day on display screens time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, which is responsible for critical thinking and reasoning.

“We don’t know what this data means yet,” says Dr. Jennifer F. Cross, an attending paediatrician and developmental and behavioural paediatrics expert at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital commented regarding digital screens. “What we can hypothesise is that screens may inhibit certain aspects of a child’s development by narrowing their focus of interest and limiting their other means of exploration and learning.”

“It can be difficult to get young children to engage in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys to foster imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills, if they spend the majority of their time engaging with an iPad, smartphone, or television, in conclusion digital screens all of which are highly entertaining. It’s like working out simply your arm muscles and nothing else if you spend practically all of your time staring at a screen. You’d have incredible arm muscles, but at the sacrifice of overall fitness.”

Dr. Cross, who is also an assistant professor of clinical paediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine, spoke with Health Matters about the effects of screen time on children’s growing brains and what parents and caregivers can do to help.

We all know that kids now, more than ever, have easy access to screens. But how do screens effect the development of young children?

Development happens quickly in young children, especially those under the age of three. Young children learn through exploring their surroundings and watching and copying the adults in their lives. Excessive screen time can impair a child’s capacity to watch and experience the ordinary everyday activities that they need to engage in in order to learn about the world, resulting in “tunnel vision” that can be harmful to overall development.

When I observe children walking with their parents or being pushed in a stroller, they are frequently engrossed in their phones or tablets, oblivious to everything else going on around them. If all they do is stare at a smartphone, they will not learn about the world around them. This will have an impact not just on their ability to learn new things, but also on how they interact with others and the development of their language.

How does screen time affect a child’s learning ability?

According to studies, children under the age of two learn less from a video than from another person, and it appears that while toddlers can watch the TV screen by the age of six months, they do not absorb the material until after the age of two. They won’t be bored by what’s on the screen, but they won’t learn anything from it.

Between the ages of 112 and 3, language development accelerates, and studies suggest that children learn language best when they engage and interact with people who chat and play with them. There is also evidence that children who watch a lot of television in the early elementary school years do worse on reading exams and may have focus problems.

“There is also evidence that children who watch a lot of television in the early elementary school years do worse on reading exams and may have attention deficits.”
— Jennifer Cross, Ph.D.

Tell us more about the impact of screen time on communication and language.

According to research, conversing with children in a reciprocal dialogue is critical for language development and social engagement. In real life, rather than “passive” listening or one-way engagement with a screen, it’s that back-and-forth “conversation,” sharing facial expressions and reacting to the other person, that enhances language and communication abilities in young children.

When is it appropriate to introduce screens to children?

Except when video conferencing with relatives, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding screens for children less than 18 to 24 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advises limiting screen time for preschool children (ages 2 to 5) to one hour of high-quality television each day (think Sesame Street or PBS).

It can be beneficial to have a young child elsewhere engaged and entertained when something around the house has to be done. Instead of handing their child a tablet or phone, I advise parents to switch on a short TV show like Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood — anything instructive and engaging that shows characters conversing and playing together to model excellent social skills. It’s also great to watch educational programming with the child if at all possible, so you can actively engage with them about what they’re seeing and learning.

What effect might screens have on a child’s sleep?

When the sun sets, our circadian rhythms and production of melatonin — the sleep hormone — kick in. Blue light from screens, on the other hand, inhibits melatonin, which can cause sleep deprivation. In addition, watching TV or playing video games keeps our brains and bodies aware and active, preventing us from falling asleep. (Because the screen, and that blue light, is closer to the face, tablets and smartphones inhibit melatonin more than TVs.)

According to one study, infants aged 6 to 12 months who were exposed to screens in the evening slept much less than those who were not exposed to screens in the evening.

Excessive screen use late at night can disrupt sleep in preteens and teenagers, so it’s best to keep devices out of the bedroom. Too much time spent on social media, as well as a lack of sleep, can have an impact on students’ conduct and cognitive performance at school, interfering with their ability to study. Excessive screen time and sleep deprivation have also been related to obesity, which can impact self-esteem and contribute to social isolation, as well as additional screen time.

For young children, how addictive can computer displays be?

The issue with mobile devices is that they entice you to use them, and we all know how simple it is to waste time on the internet. We can’t live without them since they’re so portable and pervasive. As adults, we are aware of some of the disadvantages and choose to put the phone down, but for 2- or 3-year-olds, who are unaware of these issues and have been exposed to the phone/tablet since infancy, it has been their norm and they want to do more of it.

We should also be wary of utilising screens to divert a child’s attention away from an issue rather than letting them figure it out and learn to fix it on their own. It’s fine to play a favourite song to distract a young child who has just fallen and injured their knee, but it’s preferable to have the parent soothe, cuddle, and talk to the youngster. Using screen time to distract young children who are having problems sharing a toy will not help them learn to share and take turns in the future, while it may provide a temporary cure.

Is it true that certain screens are worse than others?

Television isn’t as horrible as it was once thought to be because it’s easier to manage and remains put. Because tablets and smartphones are portable, they are considerably more accessible. You may carry them with you everywhere you go and utilise them whenever you choose.

YouTube, in my opinion, is not suitable for young children. Children, if left to their own devices, are often better than their parents at locating favourite videos that connect to other videos, leading to hours of watching endless footage. Children can watch nearly anything on the site because it is mostly uncontrolled; at best, there is no instructional benefit, and at worst, it can be violent or inappropriate content. The ideal course of action is to watch alongside the child so that the parent is actively involved in picking appropriate and informative stuff.

What advice do you have for parents who want to limit their children’s screen time?

If at all possible, watch with a partner.

If your children are going to have screen time, the greatest thing you can do is sit with them and watch the show or game with them so they can grasp what they’re watching. Comment on what you see, ask questions about what’s going on, and sing along with your child if someone on the show is singing a song. Engage them in conversation and repeat concepts after the programme to ensure that they remember the knowledge.

Choose your media carefully.

Look for reviews of age-appropriate apps, games, and programmes from organisations like Common Sense Media to help you make the best choices for your children.

Keep screens out of bedtime, dinner, and family time.

Use screens in the car only for long trips, and consider establishing a curfew or a time when your entire family turns off all displays. It’s critical to strike a balance between online and offline time.

Check out this article on: Safe Exploring for Children

More information on children’s health can be found here.

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