The early results from a recent $300 million National Institute of Health (NIH) study indicate that children who log a certain amount of screen time undergo certain brain changes, some of which the researchers worry could be damaging.
Screen time is anything someone does in front of a screen, like video chatting, using a laptop, watching television, browsing on a smartphone, and more. Lots of children spend time in front of television, tablet, and computer screen – whether or not it is for playing games or doing homework, it still counts as logged screen time.
The study includes 4,500 children, all of which have already undergone (and will continue to undergo) a series of brain scans. The researchers expect to release more preliminary results in the upcoming months. Although the NIH scientists are unsure what the long-term consequences of the results may be, they do know one thing without doubt: children between the ages of 9 and 10-years-old with seven or more hours of screen time per day exhibit different brain patterns (as well as premature thinning in certain areas) than kids who spend fewer hours per day on the same devices.
Since initiating the study, the team of researchers has found other concerning results as well. Kids logging just two hours of screen time every day scored lower on reasoning and language test results. Ones who spent more than seven hours on devices per day showed premature signs of thinning cortexes. The cortex of the brain is the area that is responsible for functions like:
There is still much debate surrounding when a person’s brain is fully developed or “mature”, but for the most part scientists agree that it may be well into someone’s 20s. Throughout childhood, several critical physical changes occur. According to scientists, children around the ages of 9 or 10-years-old begin to undergo subtle but very important brain changes.
One way that children’s brains change around 10-years-old is that the cells begin to grow protective sheathing. This growth results in different parts of the brain being able to make connections more quickly (which makes things like learning easier), as well as fostering a more comprehensive response system to feelings. At this point, it is not entirely clear just how much heavy amounts of screen time can affect a 9 or 10-year-old’s overall healthy brain development.
Not only is the study trying to determine brain changes that occur in children from different amounts of screen time, but also whether or not screen time is addictive. Numerous sources assert that screen time is addictive in children, young adults, and adults alike. But, since screen use devices are fairly new phenomena, the truth is it is still a bit too early for scientists to tell. The NIH study, however – which received a whopping $300 million in government funding – is expected to be the most detailed assessment on this topic so far to date.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has general screen time guidelines for infants, children, and young adults up to 18-years-old. The organization recommends that children under 18-months-old have no screen time at all, unless it is video chatting (such as with a loved one serving in the military overseas or out of state). Here are some other examples of the AAP’s recommendations:
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