1-year-old boy sits in the dark on a bed between his parents, a laptop illuminating his face.  Too much screen time can negatively affect a child's brain.

How Do Screens Affect Children's Brains?

Screens are amazing for a lot of things, but overexposure to them can have devastating effects for children. As screen time has skyrocketed, so have cognitive and behavioral issues like ADHD. Studies have found that children who spent more time on screens showed less expressive language and ability to rapidly name objects, decreased literacy skills, and even physical changes to the brain.

Effects of Too Much Screen Time

  1. Hinders communication with others - An essential part of childhood is making friends. If your child does not have the appropriate skills to interact and relate to other kids, they will not be able to form important relationships. All relationships require communication, concentration, and focus. These are all skills that can be negatively affected by screen time which will ultimately decrease your child’s ability to be present and attentive.

    Making friends can be difficult and, if a child has the option, they will choose the easier activity of gluing themself to a screen, rather than requesting a playdate with a friend. Toddlers do not understand the significance of a close relationship, so as a parent, you must promote social interactions with other children. You can do this by scheduling playdates with other parents or by enrolling your child in a recreational activity that requires them to interact with other kids. The more social interactions your child has in their early years, the more likely they will create strong friendships in their adolescence. These bonds with other people are a result of their brain’s exposure to social interaction.

  2. Creates unhealthy expectations - When a child interacts with a smart device, all of their gestures and actions receive instant feedback and response. You may notice that if you are reading a book to your child, they may try and swipe to the next page or click on the picture with their finger. The reason they do this is that they have grown to expect the same response from real-life objects as they do from their smart device. Games and apps all make use of colorful and alluring sound effects that act as a reward system for your child. All of their actions are reinforced and promoted which rarely happens in day-to-day life.

    In many cases, an app will hint at where a child should click to get the best response. When you take the device away, a child will expect rewards for their actions in everyday scenarios. This expectation can make disciplining them very difficult because they are so used to constant validation. This conditions the child to only want to learn if they are going to get a reward, which will cause negative consequences down the line.

  3. Mental health problems - Many areas of the brain are affected by prolonged device exposure, which studies have shown can lead to mental health problems down the line, including depression. Mental health problems can stem from screen time’s potential to negatively affect your child’s problem-solving, communication, and social interaction skills.

    How Much Screen Time is Recommended?

    The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend the following guidelines:
    • Until 18-months: No screen time.
    • 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.