How Do Screens Affect Children’s Brains?


Screens can be an amazing tool, and they’re everywhere. But, more and more, research is showing that overexposure to them can have devastating effects on developing brains. What are those effects? How much screen time is too much? How can parents best navigate parenting in a screen-filled world?

Screens Can Interfere with Language Development

JAMA Pediatrics, a highly-regarded American Medical Association publication, found that children who spent more time on screens had less expressive language and ability to rapidly name objects, as well as decreased literacy skills. They also discovered that more screen time causes physical changes in the brain — specifically affecting the integrity of lower brain white matter in an area of the brain directly linked to language and literacy skills.

Screens Create Unhealthy Expectations

When a child interacts with a smart device, all of their actions receive instant feedback. For example, you may begin to notice when you’re reading a book to your child that they try to “swipe” to the next page, or “click” on the picture with their finger. They do this because they’ve grown to expect the same response from real-life objects as they do from smart devices. Games and apps use colorful images and alluring sound effects that act as a reward system for your child. All actions are immediately reinforced and promoted, which rarely happens in day-to-day life. 

Constant rewards in the digital world can create a similar expectation in the real world. This can interfere with learning, because children may only be interested in learning if they are rewarded every step of the way. It can also lead to behavior issues, because in the absence of constant validation children may act out.

How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend the following: 

  • Until 18-months: no screen time (aside from video chatting)
  • Until age 5: limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, co-view with your children, help them understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.

A Brain-Healthy Alternative to Screens

What can screen-conscious parents do to engage their children in brain-friendly activities, especially during a pandemic when families are staying home and many parents are juggling work and childcare? 

Daniel Buelhoff, a new dad and product entrepreneur, created a screen-free educational audio toy called Storypod for just this reason. “If I were to let my daughters decide how much to be on my phone, they’d be on it all day long,” explains Daniel. “We wanted a healthier way to entertain them that would include educational and interactional elements, so we created a speaker that kids could interact with through wonderful figurines they already love.”

Storypod is a screen-free storyteller that “edutains” kids with interactive, age-appropriate audio content. How it works is simple: kids grab a Craftie (an adorable yarn figurine with a special chip in it), place it on the Storypod speaker, and are transported to a fantastic audio world of stories, music, and learning topics in both English and Spanish. Learn more here.

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Storypod is live on Indiegogo. Preorder a Storypod Set for up to 40% off here.

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