How Too Much Screen Time Can Affect Young Children

creens can literally act like a drug in your child's brain

Screen time is an inescapable part of the modern day. The rise of technology and digitization has profoundly affected every part of our lives, from digital economics to how interpersonal relationships are formed and maintained. It’s safe to say that most of us are dependent on our phones, computers and tablets to get us through the day. Checking social media sites and apps frequently is a hard-wired habit for a great number of the population, sometimes even during important events like a company meeting or a social gathering. It is really difficult for teens and adults to stay away from screens as they are an integral part of academics and jobs, but what about young children? How young is too young to be exposed to computers, smartphones and tablets?

1

Most parents believe that the educational applications and shows available online help their children to develop better. While this fact is true, screen time is also extremely dangerous when young children are left unsupervised

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with their devices. For example, some educational games like Minecraft can become addictive if children are left to play without a time limit. The addiction can result in increased anger and temper tantrums, moodiness, restlessness and an inability to focus on any task that requires concentration in children as young as 5 years old.

2

Research as early as 1998 showed a conclusive link between video games and increased dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is integral in maintaining addictions. It is known as the “pleasure chemical”, and can produce hyper-arousal so strong, that it can get children literally hooked to their screens like a drug. Recent brain imaging has shown that prolonged screen time affects the brain’s frontal cortex – the part of the brain that controls executive functioning, including impulse control- in the exact same way as cocaine. This means that children develop an addition that comes with withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, tremors, anger, violence and aggression. Children also have higher levels of depression

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and anxiety, and sometimes can even have a psychotic break that makes them lose touch with reality. These results show a very dark side of technology that is changing the structure and development of a child’s brain in ways we are only now starting to comprehend.

3

Between birth and age three, a child’s brain is very sensitive to his/her environment while the brain develops rapidly. The changes made in the brain at this time are the permanent foundation upon which further brain development is built. For neural networks to form for normal brain functioning, and child needs specific stimuli from the environment to develop abilities like focus, concentration, language, recognizing social cues, and communicating with the world around them. Constantly looking at screens can not only hamper these processes, but also change the way the neural connections are actually formed in the brain. A child immersed in her online game completely blocks out the real world, which can be extremely dangerous. When this happens, she does not

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involve herself in the conversations happening around her, which drastically affects how she learns to communicate and understand the world around her.

4

An exchange of dialogue between a parent and a child during an activity like story time for example, leads to better vocabulary, better language skills and gets children started on how to read words. Moreover, this also helps children to understand the deeper context of communication, like emotions and expression in language through intonation and inflection in a conversation. This leads to stunted social growth and communication among children and adolescents in the future. In fact, technology is changing the way teens communicate with each other right now. Many teens have not learned adult social skills, and can be very, very awkward when it comes to interacting face-to-face, but are brazen and even sexual when it comes to texting or using social media like Snapchat. This gives no room for emotional bonding and personal communication, which can make most relationships feel

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like they unfulfilling. Not only is social communication compromised, but emotional growth and stability among social relationships is also ignored. This can cause many teens to feel emotionally unfulfilled, and lead to conditions like depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol addiction.

5

Setting a strict no-screen rule for children younger than 3 years of age can immensely help children to develop better. Making sure to spend quality time with your child and engaging them in activities like Lego building, reading, painting and outdoor play can help children develop their social and emotional skills. Some researchers suggest that not exposing children to screens until 9 to 10 years of age can aid in normal development, but with the world changing so rapidly, this might not be possible. Supervising your child’s screen time, making sure to research the effects of an app before letting your child use it, and setting time every day to spend quality time with your child can be some ways you can aid in

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normal brain development.