The rise of mobile phones and tablets changed the meaning of “play with your friends.” Now, researchers want parents to bring the game back to the playground and not online due to the negative effects of long screen time on children.
A new study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that smartphones, tablets and even television could delay the brain development in infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Researchers analyzed the brain scans of children, ages three to five years, and their exposure to screens.
The children who were exposed to TV and gadgets for more than one hour a day without parental involvement appeared with lower levels of development in their brain’s white matter. This area plays an important role in language, literacy and cognitive skills, CNN reported Monday.
“This is the first study to document associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids,” John Hutton, lead study author and a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said. “This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years.”
He noted that the brain is still “very plastic” in early childhood. This means any changes or delays in their development may lead to problems that could “last for life.”
For the study, Hutton and his colleagues analyzed the brains of 47 brains of healthy children using a special type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging. The tool allowed the researchers to look closely into the white matter of the participants’ brains.
The children also received cognitive tests and their parents answered a scoring system on screen time provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Results showed that a screen time of more than an hour a day led to disorganized and underdeveloped white matter in the brain of the children. Hutton said majority of the participants spent two to five hours a day using gadgets.
“About 90 percent are using screens by age one,” he added. “We’ve done some studies where kids are using them by 2 months old to 3 months old.”
The researchers said parents and the portability of today’s screens contributed to the children’s screen time. The kids who spent five hours of screen time have parents who use phones or tablets for 10 hours, or allow their kids to use devices in the bed, during meals, in the car or even the playground.