too much screen time damage a child’s brain

Will too much screen time damage a child’s brain?


It is said that generations ago, parents were concerned about children listening to too much radio. Then the worry was too much TV time. Now the same concerns are being raised regarding too much time looking at cell phones, tablets, computers, TV screens, and video games.

Back in the early television days, there were no brain scans. Now, with advanced brain imaging readily available, researchers have been busy scanning children’s brains looking for any structural changes. Some studies have shown changes, but the question remains: are these changes bad? Do they predict learning or other problems? Or perhaps these changes will help the child better adapt to a digital future?

The ABCD Study

In 2013, the National Institutes of Health (USA) began an ambitious research study (called ABCD) involving 11,800 early adolescent children, in 21 medical centers. Each year, until the end of their adolescence, each child undergoes an MRI scan. Any changes are correlated with the child’s use of substances such as alcohol and marijuana, smoking or vaping, history of concussion, and screen time.

The study is still ongoing, but the first results have recently been published, and some experts are concerned. The results show that some children who have higher than average daily screen time showed lower scores on aptitude tests. But some kids who had long screen times showed no problems.

On their MRI scans, some of the children with higher screen times showed structural changes, changes that are not normally seen until the child is somewhat older. But again, the researchers cannot say if these changes are good or bad. Note that many other factors cause structural brain changes in children, including living in poverty, abuse, or reading a lot.

Also complicating the results is another question. What caused what? Perhaps some of the children with attention deficit disorders, mood problems, or difficulties in problem solving did not develop these due to excess screen time. It could be that children with problems were more attracted to screens in the first place. Perhaps kids with more behavioral problems were the ones encouraged to use digital devices by their parents, to keep them distracted.

A 2014 Irish study

A study done at Queens University (Belfast) looked at over 100 studies on screen use and brain changes. They analyzed the top 43 studies—the ones with the best research methods— and the results were mixed. Some studies suggested that too much screen time was harmful, some found no problems.

Beyond screen time—depression and anxiety

The results of the brain scan research are uncertain, however some experts are convinced that the changes seen indicate damage to a child’s growing brain. However, beyond scanning, there is one area in which researchers seem to agree—that too much screen time can increase depression and anxiety. Instagram, and less so Facebook, have been correlated with children (and adults) feeling worse about themselves. Constant comparison with others makes them feel inadequate.

The other problem with too much screen time is that it means less time to do what kids should be doing. For example, playing sports and games, sleeping, building and destroying things, running outside, or dealing with family and friends face-to-face. All these things are important for social development, and we can only suspect that their loss is not a good thing.

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See also in ProcuraMed:

New research on social media, loneliness and depression

How to deal with social media depression

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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