The recent question of concern considers how all that screen time impacts the physical structure of your kids' brains, as well as their emotional development and mental health. The National Institutes of Health hopes to answer this question by studying the adolescent brain development. Anderson Cooper, correspondent of CBS 60 Minutes, interviewed different researchers to get a better understanding the research we are looking for.
The first wave of data found significant differences in the brains of nine and ten-year-olds who spend more than seven hours a day of screen time, compared to those who don’t. These brains showed premature thinning of the cortex, the part of the brain that processes information from the five senses. The study also revealed that kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens got lower scores on thinking and language tests. While this research may take a significant amount of time to complete, researchers hope to answer not only how much time are they spending, how they perceive it impacting them, but also what are some of the outcomes. And that will get at the question of whether there's addiction or not.
Dr. Dimitri Chrisrakis at Seattle Children's Hospital, speaks on the recommendation for parents to, "avoid digital media use, except video chatting, in children younger than 18 to 24 months." In his 60 Minutes talk, “Toddlers need laps more than apps”, Dr. Chrisrakis warns that babies playing with iPads do not transfer what they learn from the iPad to the real world. This is a critical period for human brain development. Apps on iPads with lights, colors, and sounds are more stimulating to an infant than an original toy. His research proves that kids are less likely to put down an iPad while playing with it, than they are to put down a toy. Tristan Harris, former Google manager, explains that phones and apps are being designed to capture and keep kids' attention. Apps use specific techniques to get people to use the product for as long as possible.
Until recently, it was impossible to see what happens inside a young brain when a person is focused on a mobile device. Dr. Bagot is among scientists who believe screen time stimulates the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which has a pivotal role in cravings and desire. The idea is that people are more likely to continue checking their devices in order to keep the good feelings. Teenagers now spend on average four and a half hours a day on their phones. All that time has resulted in a fundamental shift in how a generation of American kids acts and thinks. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University has spent years combining surveys of people since the 1960s. She discovered sudden changes in the behavior and mental health of teens born in 1995 and later, the first generation to spend their entire adolescences with smartphones. Twenge found that the percentage of teens who reported drinking or having sex fell. But the percentage who said they were lonely or depressed spiked. It's possible other factors may have played a role, but Twenge says she wasn't able to identify any that correlated as closely as the growing popularity of the smartphone and social media.
It is difficult to say whether it's the specific things that teens are doing on their phones that's the problem. Or whether it’s just the amount of time that they're spending on their phones that is the problem. With new technological shifts, people become excited and amused without realizing the consequences until years later when it’s too late. Tech companies have created ways to monitor screen time or set time restrictions on apps, but most parents aren’t aware of these tools. Twenge believes smartphones, as well as most devices, are great when they are used for the right purpose. It is the excessive use of apps and social media that cause harm. She states, “it should be a tool that you use. Not a tool that uses you.”
The purpose of this article is not to frighten parents, but to educate them on the effects screen time can have on kids. This is not to say remove electronics completely but beware of what part of technology is actually benefiting you, and what part is harming you. If your child is using an excessive amount of screen time, learn more about the tools that can help prevent this future addiction.
~Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD
Reference: Cooper, Anderson. “Groundbreaking Study Examines Effects of Screen Time on Kids.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 9 Dec. 2018, www.cbsnews.com/news/groundbreaking-study-examines-effects-of-screen-time-on-kids-60-minutes/