The first long-term study on how screen time affects children's brains suggests more than 2 hours a day could do damage

Adam Berry / GettyA study of more than 11,000 American children found more than two hours of screen time a day could do major damage.
  • A new and ongoing study from the National Institutes of Health is testing how screen time affects children’s brains, CBS News reported.
  • When complete, the study will have followed more than 11,000 children for a decade, monitoring how digital screens like smartphones, video games, and tablets are changing the young brain.
  • The first brain scans from the study have been analysed, and researchers have concluded that children who spend more than seven hours a day on screens experience “premature thinning of the cortex,” Gaya Dowling, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview with “60 Minutes.”
  • The study also found that children who have more than two hours of screen time a day got lower scores on tests focused on thinking and language skills.

A first-of-its-kind study from the National Institutes of Health is analysing how screen time affects children’s brains, CBS News reported. Over the next decade, the study will follow more than 11,000 children, who are currently 9 to 10 years old, as they grow up around screens.

“We’ll be able to see not only how much time are they spending, how they perceive it impacting them, but also what are some of the outcomes,” Gaya Dowling, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview with “60 Minutes.” “And that will get at the question of whether there’s addiction or not.”

The first findings from the study show as little as 2 hours of screen time can be detrimental

Although researchers are just beginning their study of the connection between screens and addiction, early results have found that as little as two hours of screen time daily could negatively affect children. In fact, the study found that children who have more than two hours of screen time a day got lower scores on tests focused on thinking and language skills.

Kid child iphone ipad tabletGetty/Mario TamaThe study found that children who have more than two hours of screen time a day got lower scores on tests focused on thinking and language skills.

According to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent screen-time guidelines, these negative effects occur because children don’t know how to translate two-dimensional skills learned on a screen to the real, three-dimensional world. “If you give a child an app where they play with virtual Legos, virtual blocks, and stack them, and then put real blocks in front of them, they start all over,” he said on “60 Minutes.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests toddlers stay away from screens as much as possible

The newest screen-time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics stress the importance of face-to-face communication and suggest parents avoid screen time for toddlers between the ages of 18 and 24 months, with the exception of video calling. The guidelines also suggest parents accompany young children whenever they are using screens.

“Co-viewing is best when possible and for young children they learn best when they are re-taught in the real world what they just learned through a screen,” the guidelines noted.


Read more:
I’m raising my son with very limited technology – here’s how I do it

The NIH study could help solidify guidelines about screen time for young people

Child watching tvPixabayGuidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest parents and children use screens together.

As the NIH study continues, researchers hope to retrieve information that can better inform screen-related health guidelines.

As Dowling noted, a full picture of the screen-time effects won’t be possible until years down the line, when the study is complete. The NIH, has, however, finished enrolling the 11,000 children participating in the research project.

Dowling told “60 Minutes” that the researchers hope to determine whether screens have an addictive nature through their work over the next decade.

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