The Negative Impact of Screen Time on a Child’s Brain Development: Understanding the Issue
Ever wondered if all that screen time is negatively affecting your child’s brain? Bad news, I am afraid. According to all the experts, this electronic screen syndrome (ESS) is causing sleep deprivation, social isolation, behavior problems, and a hyper aroused nervous system.
Some paediatricians have estimated that up to 80% of the kids they are seeing who are being medicated for ADHD, anxiety, depression and mood swings do not have these disorders at all. There are simpler remedies like reducing screen time, for example. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on cutting down screen time (presently a whopping 7 hours a day) are listed here.
Parents and teachers have noticed how too much screen time is making kids surly, bored and permanently “wired and tired”. But what is actually happening to the child’s brain? Let us take a closer look.
Screen time is interfering with brain development
It is scary to think that a child’s brain is growing at an enormous rate, and, in the first year of life, it actually grows by 300%. Now, let the baby look at a ball rolling across a tablet screen. It is a two-dimensional process, and there is no tactile or other stimuli. Let the child play with a real ball, and she will experience three dimensions, the movement, grab it, touch it or even try to eat it. The child is experiencing the real world, and that can never be replaced by what is happening on a screen.
Screen time is delaying learning to talk
The best way to get a child to talk is by interacting and talking to him. The kid can watch the facial expressions, smile, hear the tone of voice, experiment with the sounds, and notice the body language. All these are essential and complex processes in learning to talk. No screen, game, or video can replace the joy of learning from human interaction. A robot might, but let’s not go there!
Screen time can reduce the number of words a child learns
Did you know that a parent uses 940 words an hour when chatting to a toddler? Guess what happens when the TV is on. The number of words the parent uses falls to 770. That means the toddler is learning fewer words over time.
Screen time can affect a child’s physical and mental health
There are lots of studies that show that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for a child’s or teen’s physical health. One study shows that watching more than 2 hours of TV a day led to poor physical fitness, lower self-esteem, and poorer academic achievement.
What can we do as parents?
There are innumerable factors, such as the home environment, social economic status, and school, which can also negatively impact a child’s development. But one inescapable fact is that too much screen time is preventing our kids from doing sports, reading, playing outdoors, and talking (and fighting!) with siblings.
Reducing screen time is one suggestion that does not cost you a cent. At worst, nothing will change, although it is difficult to imagine that things might be worse.
An excellent book to help you actually carry out this is Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time by Dr. Victoria Dunckley. She recommends that parents implement a strict electronic ‘fast’ just for a few weeks. There can be a dramatic improvement in sleep quality, mood, focus, and behavior.
Many parents will recoil from the idea of having to stop their children using cell phones and laptops for a while. The book is full of practical suggestions on how to do this. The rewards are well worth the initial effort and struggle.
The impact of excessive screen time on a child’s brain development cannot be ignored. Parents and caretakers need to be aware of the alarming effect of screens on their children’s health and take the necessary precautions. It is still possible to reset the child’s brain through strict implementation of screen-free activities, including sports, reading, outdoor activities, and socializing. Ultimately, the long-term solution lies in parents taking responsibility for their children’s digital health and ensuring their physical, social and emotional development.