Too Much Screen Time May Be Stunting Toddlers' Brains


"This is the first study to document associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids", said lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

From the past decade, the usage of screens in the form of TV, tablets, smartphones has increased by 90 % among children below one year of age. In the past, studies have linked high levels of screen-time and TV viewing to behavior issues, slowed language development, sleep troubles, attention deficit and more. Researchers looked at brain MRIs in 47 preschoolers and found that screen time over the AAP's recommendations was associated with differences in brain structure in areas related to language and literacy development.

The researchers assessed the children for screen time and performed diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging scans - a class of MRI scans created to probe structural changes - and found those with higher screen scores had lower brain white matter integrity in regions involving language, executive function and literacy skills. "While we can't yet determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or implies long-term neurodevelopmental risks, these findings warrant further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits on technology use".

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 18 months avoid screens altogether, other than for video-chatting.

"This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years", Hutton said. Hutton said. "They can take screens to bed, they can take them to meals, they can take them to the auto, to the playground". A Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) MRI scan was administered along with cognitive tests that measured things like language literacy and speed processing.

Torres says parents should never use media as a babysitter.

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And in teenagers and adults, "small doses of screen time can be a mental health-positive way of relaxing, reducing stress, and connecting socially to friends and family members".

Scientists compared MRI scans of nearly 50 children under six with the results of questionnaires completed by their parents setting out how long they spend on phones, tablets and watching TV. The concern is that children with under-stimulated brains in early childhood could develop less efficient connections that become harder to reinforce or fix as they get older. It showed the degrees of myelination of the neurons in the brains of the kids.

Heard added that some parents who come to her practice are also concerned about what these devices are doing to their children.

Watch or be engaged with your child when possible during screen time and choose high-quality programming.

It is also recommended that parents set aside media-free family time together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms. Kids who used a screen for longer than one hour per day had underdeveloped and unorganized white matter.

The versatility of modern screens is also put forward as a factor in cases of excessive screen-time, as children are able to take them everywhere including to bed or to meals. It was more involved with the language and literacy skills of the children.