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Too Much Screen Time Changing Kids’ Brains

A study published in a major US Pediatric journal on Tuesday, warns too much screen time is physically changing the part of kids’ brains that controls language and literacy skills. 

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics tracked 47 preschool children (aged 3 – 5) using screen time diaries, cognitive tests and MRI scans.

The scans revealed that children who spent more time in front of screens had “lower white matter integrity”. That’s science speak for – less brain matter. Noticeable differences were also found in the cognitive test results.

White matter is the brain’s internal communications network. It allows electrical signals to move from one area of the brain to another. Its organisation and structure is crucial to how children learn and process language.

The lead author of the study John Hutton from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital told MIT Technology review the study had found a clear link between higher screen use and lower white matter integrity.

The study was relatively small – only 47 children. But the results were so clear, the authors have recommended further study.

“These findings suggest a need for further study into the association between screen-based media use and the developing brain, particularly during early childhood,” the study’s authors concluded.

screen time
Experts say TV and device use should be limited in preschool kids. Photo: BigStock

Is it time to panic?

Not just yet. The study has found a link, but the authors still need to rule out other factors influencing the results such as ADHD.

Some studies have found that kids who have more time in front of screens may tend to show more ADHD symptoms. However, other studies suggest that kids with ADHD tend to gravitate towards screen time more than others anyway. Hello hyperfocus!

It’s also possible that demographic factors such as income could be playing a part.

Screen time kids remote
How much have you watched today? Photo: BigStock

So how much is too much? 

The authors of the study used the screen time guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics as their guide. Parents and children were asked to fill out a survey on their screen habits. The questions included: How frequently do they use the screen? What type of content are they viewing? Is there an adult sitting with the child when they are watching?

In Australia, the current recommendation is for no more than two hours of screen time per day. Screen time is NOT recommended for children under two.


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Confessions of a Mumma Whose Kids Had Too Much Screen Time

20 Top Tips on Changing your Child’s Screen-Time Habits


Avatar of Alison Godfrey

Alison Godfrey has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years. She loves coffee, wine, skiing and spending time with her husband, two children and their dog. But she's still not sure about the cat. He's pretty cranky.

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