Too much screen time may harm preschoolers' brains

Too much screen time may harm preschoolers' brains

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It's the latest in a wealth of research over the past few years that has tied excessive screen use by kids to shorter attention spans, hyperactivity, ADHD, aggressive behavior, sleep problems, weight gain, and unhealthy habits.

Could it get any worse?

Maybe, according to this recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio used an MRI to scan the brains of 47 healthy boys and girls ages 3 to 5 years old. The researchers also gave the children cognitive tests to measure their literacy and language skills. None of the kids had started kindergarten yet.

Meanwhile, the kids' parents filled out surveys asking how often their children used screens, when they used them, what content was on the screens, and whether parents interacted with their kids while they used the screens.

Compared with children who had little to no screen time, kids who used screens more than one hour a day without parental interaction had:

  • Less developed white matter in the brain. White matter is important for language, literacy, and brain development.
  • More disorganized white matter. This means the children's brains weren't able to function as quickly, because white matter helps the brain communicate with itself and other parts of the body.
  • Inferior language and literacy skills in the cognitive tests.

But before you beat yourself over the head for allowing your 3-year-old to watch that episode of "Peppa Pig" while you cooked dinner, keep these points in mind:

  1. This study was small, and the results were preliminary. More research is needed before scientists can properly interpret the findings.
  2. The study doesn't prove that screen time causes problems with brain development. There may be other factors at play, such as the environment these kids are growing up in and their parents' stress and education levels.
  3. Another explanation for what's causing the lack of brain development: it might not be the screens themselves, lead author John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher,told CNN. It might be that too much time with screens interferes with other activities, such as playing and talking, which are more important for helping children's brains grow, he said.

Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), told CNN that parents should take this news as an opportunity to double down on non-screen activities with their children to build up their brains. These include reading, singing, connecting emotionally, being creative, taking a walk, and just having fun together, she said.

In addition, you can read the AAP's screen time guidelines for kids and develop a media plan for your family. And to keep those screens at bay, learn strategies for managing screen time at home.

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