Helping Parents Raise Smart & Healthy Kids

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.

Cognitive Risks

          JAMA Pediatrics, a highly-regarded American Medical Association publication, 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.

          So how much screen time is too much? Well, 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.

Screen Time Has Soared During The Pandemic

          According to The New York Times, children’s screen time had doubled by May 2021 as compared with the same period in the year prior, according to Qustodio, a company that tracks usage on tens of thousands of devices used by children, ages 4 to 15, worldwide.

          And as technology continues to advance, the number of people using smartphones, both old and young, is continually increasing. Many apps and games advertise themselves as educational tools that will foster a more focused and intelligent child, but in actuality, these devices can hinder learning objectives.

          Interacting with a smart device has the potential to put your child's brain into a passive “zombie mode”. Screen content often lacks the necessary interaction to challenge kids and exercise their developing minds. 

Serious Consequences

          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.

          A child that opts for a phone or tablet instead of a tactile game or playdate restricts themself from learning many lessons. The skills that a child can gain by interacting with real objects and people are exponentially more valuable. If a child is overexposed to screens early on, they may lack real-life experiences that make it more difficult for them to choose healthy behaviors when they get older. Therefore, by avoiding screen time or limiting it, you can teach your child valuable life lessons and prepare them more thoroughly for the future.

Hinders Interaction 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.

          The part of the brain that is responsible for decoding social interactions is the frontal lobe. It is responsible for empathy and understanding of unspoken body language such as vocal tone and facial expression. Having a working comprehension of these socializing pillars are vital to a child’s success in their future relationships. The most significant period of growth for the frontal lobe is during a child’s early years. It is at this point that a child must exercise their ability to socialize with others. A child could face severe problems in their future if they have too much screen time, including an inability to understand critical social cues. For behavior that is genuine and honest, parents must ensure their toddlers are exercising social skills while limiting their use of smart devices.

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. If a child does not get what they want in school, they will act out. They will become so used to the behaviors of an app that they will forget how different real life is. It will make their teenage years very difficult as they prepare for high-school and post-secondary education.

How Parents Can Manage Screen Time

Busy parents struggle enormously to manage screen time when they're trying to balance work, some semblance of a personal or social life, and their kids. Some simple alternatives to screens parents can turn to include:

Outdoors - playing in nature! Free, fun, and healthy - getting kids active outside is the timeless, go-to screen alternative. But it's not always easy or possible to let the kids roam free out of the house.

Indoors - activity boxes, play couches, and educational audio systems. Families spend the majority of time at home so parents need to find creative yet simple solutions to keep their kids busy with quality entertainment so their kids don't just plop in front of a screen and go zombie mode. The best options are fun, engaging activities that are also healthy, such as:

  • DIY STEM project subscription boxes like Kiwico and Little Passports
  • Montessori toys like Lovevery, MontiKids, and TenLittle  
  • Play couches like FORT and Nugget 
  • An interactive audio system like Storypod

Featuring screen-free audio experiences designed to help kids grow from newborns up until they're ready for smartphones, Storypod is a unique tap-to-play speaker that engages little learners with read-along audiobooks, interactive Q&A trivia flashcards, and adorable yarn characters that play a wide variety of age-appropriate music and educational stories.