Screen Time is Linked to Lower Brain Development in Toddlers

A child’s brain develops most rapidly during its first five years of life. The increased use of digital devices (phones, tablets and TVs) among our youth has sparked much debate among the medical world and parents alike. While this subject has been the topic of many pediatric studies, a recent study that uses a diffusion tensor MRI takes it to a new level by examining the brain’s white matter.

White matter is made up of fibers, typically distributed into bundles called tracts, which form connections between brain cells and the rest of the nervous system. The white matter of the brain is responsible for organizing communication between the various parts of the brain's gray matter. Gray matter contains the majority of the brain cells that tell the body what to do.

Results from the MRI show that higher screen use was associated with white matter tracts that were less developed throughout the brain. Researchers are looking at how a lack in the development of these white matter tracts may slow down the brain’s processing of information.

A few ways that too much screen time can effects a child include:

  • Inability to pay attention and think clearly
  • Increase in poor eating habits
  • Increase in behavioral problems
  • Delay in language and speech development
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Impaired decision-making skills
  • Decrease in parent-child engagement

These studies are still in their infancy and researchers will continue to monitor the effects that screen time has on our youth. Some activities that researchers have seen reverse the effects and help speed up the processing capabilities of the brain include reading books, juggling or hand-eye coordination games and learning and practicing a musical instrument.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you navigate through the first five years of your child’s life:

  • No screen time for kids under the age of 18 months
  • Facetime with family members is acceptable for babies and toddlers
  • Toddlers should have no more than one hour of screen time a day
  • Parents should engage and interact with toddlers as they watch videos or use interactive touch screens
  • Children 3-5 should watch content that’s educational and teaches them new skills

If you have questions about screen time and how digital devices and are affecting your child, please call Children’s Medical Center. Our doctors are happy to help guide you and evaluate your child should you have any concerns. Call us today to set schedule an appointment.

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