Today’s children are growing up with screens at their fingertips. They have never had to live without smartphones, tablets or the internet. But studies show that too much screen time can have a negative impact on children. Their brains can actually change, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics. While smart devices can help improve your child’s education, too much time can be damaging.
The Effects of Too Much Screen Time
Research shows that allowing children to spend too much time with their screens can cause a host of negative effects. These include:
- Obesity: When children are inactive, staring at their screens, they are not burning calories. This sedentary lifestyle can cause them to gain weight.
- Sleep disturbances: Looking at screens before bed can disrupt sleep cycles. The blue light from those screens interferes with the brain’s sleep cycle and can cause insomnia.
- Bullying or other behavior problems: Children who spend over two hours per day on their screens often have attention problems. Too much TV watching has also been linked to bullying.
- Academic problems: Children who spend too much time on their screens have also been shown to do worse on academic testing.
- Propensity for violence: Children who are exposed to violent media, such as movies, music and video games, can become desensitized to violence. They may imitate what they see on TV, or even try to use violence to solve their problems.
According to a study by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D., published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, too much screen time is creating subtle damage in children. Many children suffer from sensory overload, hyperactivity and a lack of sleep. These children often act impulsively, are moody, and can’t pay attention in class or at home.
Dr. Dunckley says screen time can cause potential damage in young, still-developing brains. She notes children’s brains can atrophy. Many studies have shown that brains suffer from shrinkage in areas where “processing” occurs (Zhou 2011, Yuan 2011, Weng 2013, and Weng 2012). The brain’s frontal lobe can be affected, which means students’ impulse control is affected. Studies have also shown volume loss, which again affects impulse control and a child’s capacity to show empathy and compassion. This has been linked to violent behavior in children.
The brain’s “white matter” is also damaged from too much screen time. This means the brain’s network connections may misfire, causing children to act erratically. The brain’s cortical thickness may also be reduced, which can impair thinking.
Too much screen time can impair brain structure and function; it can cause obesity, insomnia, mood swings, and even problems at school. Because children’s brains undergo so much change during their formative years, this excess screen time can be even more damaging. Academic success, social skills, even career success can all be negatively affected by excessive screen time. Because of this, it is important to monitor your children on their devices every day. Setting limits on how long your children can spend with their screens each night is a good start.