Early results from groundbreaking research hoping to understand the effects of screen time on kids’ brains are now available.
The verdict? Children’s brains are growing older, faster. Basically, MRI scans of kids “who use smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day” (Cooper, 2018) show premature thinning of the brain’s cortex, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and reported by 60 Minutes. The debate about whether or not smartphones are to blame for this brain aging will have to wait until these kids are followed over time, ten years to be exact.
While we wait for more results to come, some paediatricians like Dr. Dimitri Christskis, are eager to know how screen time is affecting very young children now. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Dr. Christakis explained his pilot study on toddlers and revealed how certain apps are engineered to be engaging but cautioned that kids “don’t transfer the knowledge from two dimensions to three” (Cooper, 2018). The cause-and-effect nature of smartphone applications plays into the vulnerability of children under the age of two by increasing gratification and cravings for more.
Likewise, teenagers’ brains respond to the instant gratification of smartphones, particularly social media, as seen in MRI scans included in the NIH study. Imaging results have shown that the brain’s reward centres “are most active while using social media” (Cooper, 2018) and that screen time stimulates the release of dopamine, a feel-good hormone. This feeling, and the widespread nature of technology contributes to an average of nearly five hours per day that teenagers spend on their phones.
Shifts in youth mental health have been said to be related to smartphone use, but it’s still unclear whether the amount of screen time or the types of screen time activities are the primary culprits. Nonetheless, as more is understood about the effects of screen time, more is being done to manage it.
Managing Screen Time
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor featured in the report, suggests that parents use app-monitoring tools on kids’ devices on both Android and Apple. Parents can also access resources to inspire you and your family to get moving on our Active for Life Resources Page.
No need to wait ten years for study results. Might as well consider how you can unplug more now.