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MRIs Show Screen Time Linked To Lower Brain Development In Preschoolers

Whether or not your kid gets to watch TV or play with a tablet is a no-brainer for most parents. For some its a just a part of their daily lives and for other parents, it's a necessary evil when you're parenting solo and you need to pop in the shower really quickly or get some work done. Past studies have shown that too much screen time is linked to lower attention spans in kids, behavioral issues, delays in language development and problems sleeping. Too much screen time has also been linked to less engagement between kids and their parents but the convenience of it all has caused most parents to shrug these warnings off. However, a new study recently conducted may cause parents to rethink that decision.

In this new study, the brains of 47 children, ages 3 to 5 years olds were scanned using an MRI. The study consisted of 27 girls and 20 boys, none of whom had started kindergarten yet. An MRI was used because it allows doctors to look at the white matter of the brain, which is the part of the brain that is important to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills. The children were also given cognitive tests, which help to measure different mental capabilities. The parents of the children were responsible for completing a survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that measured how much screen time their kids got each day.

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The results of the study discovered that the kids who had screen time for more than the AAP recommended time span had lower levels of development in the brain's white matter than the kids who did not. This age range of children was specifically chosen because past research has shown that the first 5 years of a child's life are extremely important for brain development. That's when their brains are soaking up information at an exponential pace and this time period is believed to be the foundation for all future learning. The fear is that the increase in screen time is limiting their brain development at this crucial age and is weakening that foundation.

Cute little Asian 2 -3 years old toddler boy child listening to music with headphones from smartphone, Kids playing with phone in bedroom at home, Gadget-addicted children, internet addiction concept
Credit: iStock

For the most part, experts have come to find that screen time is okay, but in moderation. The total recommended use of time for any type of screen by the AAP is about one hour a day. It's also recommended that parents participate in the screen time. As much as we'd love the lessons of Daniel Tiger and Curious George to seep into the brains of our children, it probably won't happen without a little reinforcement from mom and dad.

This research is in the very early stages and there is hope that more research will be done that will give parents more insight into the great screen time debate and help them to use it as responsibly as possible.

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