Wednesday, 20 November, 2019

Increased Screen Time Linked to Lower Brain Development in Children

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Anna Jefferson | 07 November, 2019, 17:58

The Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center study assessed screen time in terms of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations. The researchers administered to parents a 15-item screening tool, the ScreenQ, which reflects AAP screen-based media recommendations.

Dr. Hutton notes "This is the first study to document associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids".

A new study has now shown through MRIs how children (both girls and boys) between ages three and five who view screens for more than the recommended one hour of the day without parental involvement have lower levels of development in the brain's white matter that boosts language, literacy and cognitive skills.

"This study raises questions as to whether at least some aspects of screen-based media use in early childhood may provide sub-optimal stimulation during this rapid, formative state of brain development", says John Hutton, MD, director of the, Reading & Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children's and lead author of the study. "That's when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life".

Children with higher ScreenQ scores measured lower in structural integrity and myelination, the latter of which is the "coating of connections between nerve cells with a fatty substance" that "insulates the nerve cells and increases the efficiency of signaling", according to The New York Times. From 18 to 24 months, if parents choose, digital media should include only high-quality programming that the child and parent watch together.

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The AAP advises designated shared times when screens are banned - such as during dinner or in the vehicle - as well as media-free locations such as bedrooms.

Meanwhile, children with higher ScreenQ scores also had "poorer expressive language and did worse on tests of language processing speed, like rapidly naming objects", the Times reported. The doctor compared the part of the brain that was affected by the overuse of screen time, the white matter, to cables connecting different parts of the brain so that they can communicate. The children completed standard cognitive tests followed by MRI with diffusion tensor, which provides estimates of the integrity of the white matter in the brain.

"So many people have smartphones and TVs - anecdotally, we know screen time may be significant in some homes", Gupta said.

"We've been concerned that children who use a lot of media perhaps are not developing language, imagination and play in a way that we'd like them to", she said. "I think that we need to really call "time-out" to a certain degree and look more closely at the idea that children when they're little really aren't small grown-ups", said Hutton. "We need to formulate national guidelines for permissible screen time for children". "Kids who report five hours of screen time could have parents who use 10 hours of screen time". Screen Q score of 19 is total no adherence to the prescribed limit of one hour and screen time going up to even 12 hours per day. "While we still can not determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or involves long-term neurodevelopmental risks, these findings deserve further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits for the use of technology.".

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