Are Screens Hurting Kids’ Brains…and Ours?

If you watched the recent episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” that highlighted how screen time affects kids’ brains, you might be worried about how the ubiquitous presence of screens in our lives is affecting the health of our little ones—and ourselves.

The featured study, called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (funded by the National Institute of Health), aims to reveal how experiences such as substance use, concussions and screen time affect brain development in young people. And while the study is ongoing, the outcome doesn’t look good. (But then again, it doesn’t look bad, either.)

According to the research, more screen time was associated with lower scores on certain aptitude tests and seemed to accelerate a natural process known as cortical thinning. That doesn’t sound great. But, then again, some kids with high amounts of screen time scored high on tests and showed no premature thinning, so it’s not clear whether these conclusions actually mean anything in the real world.

So how bad are screens for our kids?

Here’s a rundown of what we know (and don’t).

Three kids looking down at monitor

Are screens addictive?

Yes. Haven’t you noticed that urge you get, when you’re alone in a public place, to immediately reach for your phone? Or, if you’re in a public place right now, look up from the screen and note how many people around you are also staring at screens. We are glued.

The majority of us have become addicted (to some extent) to the endless entertainment that screens can provide. Brain imaging studies show that areas of the brain associated with addictive behavior tend to light up when we use screens. This is especially true for kids—some of whom even forget to go to the bathroom, they get so immersed in what is happening on the screen. Screens are absolutely addictive.

Does screen addiction change the brain?

Yes. The adolescent brain is continually changing and rewiring itself through the teenage years and all the way up towards the mid 20s. So, the brain will naturally adjust when it spends the majority of its time looking at a screen.

Too much screen time has certainly been shown to drastically diminish our attention spans, no matter what your age. But it can have even greater ramifications for young children.

Too much screen time too soon—according to Doctor Aric Sigman, who is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine—”is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.”

Children using tablet and smartphone in living room

Does screen addiction impair brain development in adolescents?

Unclear. More research is needed to determine whether the effects of screen time are long lasting or even meaningful in adolescents and/or adults. But most professionals are especially wary of screen time for young children who are still developing basic skills.

So should we still be monitoring our screen time?

Absolutely. In both kids and adults, screen time tends to replace our most crucial human activities. For kids, that includes going outside, playing with friends, reading, and—most importantly—being bored and discovering their inner creativity. For adults, screens can take away from our reading, self care, social hangouts, and yes, our necessary boredom time.

So keep limiting your screen time. While it may or may not be bad for your brain, too much screen time can edge out other valuable parts of your or your child’s life.

Do you make a habit of monitoring your screen time? Will you start? Share your thoughts in the comments below.  

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Images via Getty

46 comments

Sophie A
Sophie A6 days ago

thank you for sharing

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Gino C
Gino C10 days ago

TYFS

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Christophe B
Christophe B19 days ago

Thank you.

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Christine D
Christine D22 days ago

As someone who spends a lot of time on my laptop, I was tested recently when we had a severe windstorm that knocked out power to much of Vancouver Island. I was without power for 5 days. I have a smartphone but reserved its use for checking the BC Hydro website occasionally to update myself and my neighbours without cellphones. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I really didn't miss my screen time as much as I thought I would. My eyes were less stressed as well.

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Mely Lu
Mely L22 days ago

Tyfs

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Ann B
Ann B23 days ago

we use to BEG to go outside and play now you have o BEG THE KIDS TO GET UP AND GO OUT--AND IF THEY DO THE CELL IS GLUED TO THEIR HANDS

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Chad A
Chad A24 days ago

Thank you.

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi D27 days ago

I don't see this ending soon.

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Tabot T
Tabot T27 days ago

Thanks for posting!

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Shirley S
Shirley S28 days ago

Social skills suffer.

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