Kids Brains and Screen Time: Risks v. Benefits

John Bachman
3 Mins
Kids Brains and Screen Time: Risks v. Benefits

We know the screen time guidelines recommended by pediatricians. (None under 18 months; 18-24 months: limited to only high-quality media watched with parents; 2-5 years: less than 1 hour, preferably watched with parents; 6+ limited.)

We also know it’s not real life. Just one movie already exceeds the recommendations. Then add tablets, phones and even schoolwork on computers and all bets are off! And it is SO easy to allow our kids to use screens or watch TV so we can do work, cook dinner or just take a break. 

So, what really happens to our kids’ brains with screen time? Why should we try to limit it? And what are the possible benefits of using screen time?

Screens Effects on Kids Brains

One of the physiological effects is the premature thinning of the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing different types of information from senses. And while repeated studies have shown this, one thing remains unclear... are children predisposed with thinning cortexes drawn to screens or do screens cause the thinning of the cortex? It’s the classic “chicken or the egg.” Do both exist simultaneously or does one cause the other? And if so, which? That remains unclear.

Dopamine, the “feel good” hormone associated with the brain’s response to pleasure, also controls cravings and desire. As screen time stimulates the release of dopamine, the brain continues to crave it more. After all, it feels good to feel good. Finding other sources of dopamine away from screen time is important in your child. Otherwise, they may become dependent, even addicted to screens. This can lead to anxiety and depression without screen time.

The social aspect of screen time is also an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, it keeps us connected to friends and loved ones across the miles. It allows cooperative work and learning, even from home. Yet it can lead to unkindness while hiding in the anonymity of technology. Things are said online that would likely never be said face-to-face. And there is a realistic fear that technology is handicapping an entire generation’s ability to connect well in real life.

Screen Time and the Body

Screen time also has an impact on the body. Blue lights emitted from screens have repeatedly been proven to disrupt sleep patterns and habits. And the addictive nature of screens makes it difficult to put them down in order to sleep. (Ideally, all screens should be shut off at least 30 minutes before going to bed.)

Additionally, obesity is a real problem in America. One of the causes of obesity is the sedentary lifestyle associated with screen time. Whether it’s television, tablets, video games or phones, people are naturally less inclined to be active when screens are available.

The Good Side

While it’s easy to blame screens for issues with children, the truth is there is much to be said in how screens are positively impacting our youth. Children are more computer literate. (How many grandparents get help from their very young grandchildren on how to navigate tablets and phones?) Children are often assigned technological devices in school to use for assignments. Typing and keyboarding is learned much earlier in life.

And while some may argue there are some old-school skills that are lost, take a breath. While researching online is absolutely different than looking things up in multiple books, it’s still very valid. After all, many lamented the rise of computing over keypunch cards a mere few decades ago. There was likely judgement of the next generation for not knowing how to use a skillset, even though the previous skillset eventually became outdated and antiquated and thoroughly unnecessary.

Balance is Key

The world has shifted and technology is king. But like most things in life, balance is best. Screens are a real part of the world in which we live. But so are fellow humans, beautiful outdoors and finding active ways to enjoy nature, art and one another. I’ve often found, when screens are turned off with kids (even though they complain for five minutes about being bored), their creativity fires up quickly. It’s amazing the things they come up with!

Find what works for your family. But make sure it involves balance. Be proactive. Limit screen time, and make sure the screen time your kids are getting is age-appropriate and safe for their developing psyches. Shut off your own devices and spend quality time with your child.

And to ensure healthy brain development from the inside out, use a high quality supplement. As always, BIPRI is here to help!

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