December 10, 2019
By Alanna Ketler
The Facts:More research has emerged showing that too much screen time can be harmful to developing brains.
Reflect On:How has childhood changed for infants and young teens? Has appropriate safety testing been done on our favourite gadgets? Should they be allowed in school?
Within the past decade or so, the way we live our lives has drastically changed for many of us. Screens (smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions) have become such integral parts of our lives that we don’t even notice how much of our attention has been given to these devices. By default, children are exposed to more screen time as well and the implications of this are finally coming to the surface. New research shows how more than two hours of screen time per day can harm the structural integrity of white matter in the brains of preschoolers, potentially harming the development of their language and literacy skills.
Please understand — the intention of sharing this information is not to shame, judge or point the finger at any parents. I understand that parenting is difficult and stressful and that sometimes putting on a cartoon or letting them play a game is what it takes in order to get any kind of break for yourself. This is simply meant to raise awareness about an issue in hopes of mitigating the harmful effects.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting the use for 2-5 year olds to a maximum of one hour a day of what they consider “high quality programming” and ideally, watching it with them to assist them in learning and digesting the new information.
Any more than this amount of time has the potential to harm the brain development of children, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Those children with more screen time exposure had “lower micro-structural integrity” of brain white matter, an area that is linked to language and cognitive function.
During the study, which involved 47 children between the ages of 3 and 5, a technology called ScreenQ was used to track screen time in accordance with AAP recommendations. Factors studied included access to screens, frequency and duration of use, what sort of content was viewed and whether or not an adult was present during the viewing, and if the content was discussed with the child or not.
The higher the ScreenQ score, the more screen time occurred. MRI scans were used to evaluate the brain’s of the children. It was revealed that more screen time was harmful to the white matter in their brains.
“While we can’t yet determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or implies long-term neurodevelopmental risks,” Dr. John Hutton, director of the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s and lead study author said in a news release, “these findings warrant further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits on technology use.”
Screen time is especially harmful for children under two and the AAP recommends that the use of digital media be avoided altogether, with the exception of occasional video chatting.
Avoid Or Limit Screen Time For Children’s Health
Keep in mind that if these screens are harmful to your children’s health, chances are they are impacting yours as well. Children learn by example, they like to copy what their parents and other adults do. If you are constantly on your phone or in front of the television, then your children might feel more inclined to imitate what you do. If they see you reading a book, getting outside and staying active, then they are more likely to develop those habits for themselves.
There is more research emerging on the potential health implications of too much screen time, but there is already enough to show that you can start monitoring and restricting that now. No need to wait, this will only benefit you and your children! Just imagine all of the quality time that could be spent if screens weren’t an integral part of the picture.
It’s not just the screens that are of concern, it’s also what comes along with them — too much screen time equals too much time spent sitting, potential damage to the eyes and more exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs.)
Of course our society is advancing towards the use of more and more technology in our lives, however there is a time and a place for tech. We have to make sure that we are using the technology, and not the other way around. Even if your children are older, you may want to consider screen-free activities and times during which you are all present together. Perhaps spending time outdoors, playing cards or board games, baking or cooking, going swimming — the possibilities are endless! We’ve just forgotten what we used to do before screens took over, and it hasn’t even been that long!