The impact of screen time on a child’s brain development has been a concern among researchers with rapid increase in use of screens by kids.
A new study has now shown through MRIs how children (both girls and boys) between ages three and five who view screens for more than the recommended one hour of the day without parental involvement have lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter that boosts language, literacy and cognitive skills.
The average screen time for these kids was anywhere between a little over two hours a day up to five hours or more. In them, the tracts of white matter responsible for executive functions were also disorganised and underdeveloped.
“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, pediatrician and clinical researcher, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Excessive screen time has earlier been found to be associated with physical and mental health issues. Besides, it also leaves lesser room for parents to spend quality time with their kids. “Kids who report five hours of screen time could have parents who use 10 hours of screen time. Put that together and there’s almost no time for them to interact with each other,” Dr Hutton was quoted as saying.
The portability of screens also gives better and easier access to them at all times. So, kids can take screens to bed, meals, car and even playground, Dr Hutton pointed out. “We’ve done some studies where kids are using them by two months old to three months old,” he added.
At the same time, the author also clarified that screen time may not be directly related to “brain damage”. Instead, it may be passive for brain development. “Perhaps screen time got in the way of other experiences that could have helped the children reinforce these brain networks more strongly,” he said.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, infants less than one year old should get no screen time. Kids up to two years of age can be allowed minimum screen time while those between three and four years of age should not watch screens for more than one hour a day. They should engage more in physical activities and have quality sleep.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.