Increased Screen Time Is Linked To Lower Brain Development In Preschoolers

Young children are being exposed to technology and screens more than ever before. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are using televisions, tablets, and smartphones earlier and earlier in their lives in today’s society. A new study says that this increased screen time is concerning for these critical years of brain development, with 90% of children being exposed to screens by the time the age of one.

The new study, published in the journal “JAMA Pediatrics” scanned the brains of children aged 3 to 5 years old with MRIs. They found that those who used screens more than the recommended one hour a day without parental involvement had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter. The white matter area of the brain is critical to the development in language, literacy, and cognitive skills for a child.

“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. “This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years. That’s when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life.”

Hutton points out that it’s not the children who are to blame for this situation, and that it stems from the parenting.

“It’s known that kids that use more screen time tend to grow up in families that use more screen time,” Hutton said. “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.”

“It’s not that the screen time damaged the white matter,” he said. “Perhaps screen time got in the way of other experiences that could have helped the children reinforce these brain networks more strongly.”

Screen time for children is inevitable in today’s world, but it’s important to realize that there need to be a limit on this for kids while their brain is still developing. It’s often easier to stick a tablet in front of your child when they’re being fussy, but next time you think about doing it, think about how it’s affecting their development and brain in the long run.