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'Too Much Media': Study Shows Kids' Brains Altered by Excessive Screen Time

11-05-2019
Image credit: (AP Photo)
Image credit: (AP Photo)

The age of media has made digital devices more accessible for everyone, including young children.

And a new study at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center revealed that young kids are getting far more screen time than what is recommended.

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) created guidelines for parents to reference.
 
"Families should proactively think about their children's media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don't have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep," said Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, "Media and Young Minds," which studies infants, toddlers and pre-school children.

American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations include:

  • Children younger than 18 months, avoid the use of screen media except for video-chatting.
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years, restrict screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs.
  • Children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media. Assure that media does not take the place of sufficient sleep, physical activity and other behaviors necessary for good health.

During the study, 47 healthy Cincinnati-area children between 3 and 5 received magnetic resonance imaging of their brains, along with cognitive testing. The examination revealed that skills such as brain processing speed were impacted.

Other recent studies have shown a negative impact on attention span and language skills.

Dr. John Hutton, the author of this latest study and director of the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital said, "These findings warrant further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits on technology use."

Also, the study was concerned with what is being replaced by screen time, such as reading with parents and interacting with other children outside.

David Anderson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and senior director of National Programs and Outreach at the Child Mind Institute, stressed the importance of limiting screen time and "to be very cautious when using screens with young kids, as young kids are in a critical developmental period."

Anderson said that children "require face-to-face interaction" to reach developmental benchmarks including language and social skills. They must develop an understanding of emotions and "build stamina to navigate personal situations."

Experts note there are some advantages to some screen time and encourage parents to develop a family media plan. 

"Small doses of screen time can be a mental health-positive way of relaxing, reducing stress, and connecting socially to friends and family members," Anderson adds.

If funding is available, Dr. Hutton and his team hope to begin a larger study on children beginning in their infancy.

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