Too much screen time can affect children’s brain

Screen time has become an integral part of lifestyle of children this season of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. A recent research shows that such technology could pose special challenges to the brain of young people, including those in the pre-school age group. SADE OGUNTOLA reports.

 

Playing with mobile screens such as smartphones, iPads and tablets may help children builds social bonds and keep them busy as more parents work at home and schooling goes online. In spite of how quickly children might seem to adjust to new tech, that doesn’t mean they know how — or when — to use it.

In recent years, the ubiquity of digital devices coupled with poor screen use habits have become an integral part of lifestyles. But a recent research showed that such technology could pose special challenges for young brains of preschool age.

Researchers in Canada had linked high levels of screen time with delayed development in children, saying that children who spent more time with screens at two years of age did worse on tests of development at age three than children who had spent little time with devices.

They found that those who spent longer with screens at 24 months showed worse performance on tests at 36 months, and a similar trend was seen for screen time at 36 months and test performance at five years.

Writing in the journal Jama Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Waterloo, the University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute described how they investigated the issue by looking at the screen time and development of more than 2,400 children between the ages of two and five.

At two years, three years, and five years, mothers were asked to record how much time their child spent using screens, including time in front of the TV, computer and other devices. They also completed standard questionnaires to assess their child’s development.

What’s more, results from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study suggests that screen time may impact children’s brains and learning. This study that followed more than 11,000 9- and 10-year-olds at 21 sites throughout the United States found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets and video games more than seven hours a day.

Children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

But watching television or playing video games to fill up the void is not the solution either. What is shocking is the long-term impact of this on a toddler. Somewhat surprisingly, the impact could be measured in the children’s dietary habits, weight and behaviour as teenagers.

The result of a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine indicated that each additional hour of TV viewing at the age of two predicted significantly worse eating habits at the age of 13.

Also, these children are less likely to make an effort in their first year of high school, which had an adverse effect on performance and ambition.

In total, almost 2,000 boys and girls born in Quebec in 1997–1998 were involved in the study. The children had been followed from the age of five months.

Parents reported TV habits as they grew, then, when the children reached the age of 13, they self-reported dietary habits and behaviour at school.

The researchers hypothesised that when toddlers watch too much TV it encourages them to be sedentary, and if they learn to prefer effortless leisure activities at a very young age, they likely won’t think much of non-leisure ones, like school, when they are older.

Paradoxically, TV watching or cartoon on an internet enabled device is generally a very passive activity, and passive activities do not allow for much cognitive stimulation.

The “2013 Nigerian Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth” showed that 90.9% of Nigerian children and youth in the urban and rural areas spend over three hours in front of the screen daily. Television viewing is 90.7%.

“What studies have shown is that watching TV by children does not contribute much to their cognitive development because they are just sitting down and they are not actively participating,” said Professor Yinka Omigbodun, a consultant, psychiatrist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State.

Aside from being a sedentary activity that promotes a lot of weight gain, she said a lot of parents use the TV as a babysitter, and that reduces the amount of interaction.

There is nothing like psychosocial stimulation of a child by a father or mother. Rather than talking to a child, the TV is there, so the parent is not finding out about how the child’s day has gone or even the child’s views.

“They do not even know their child because he or she is always watching TV in the house.  That interaction that parents and child should have or siblings to siblings should have is missing because of the TV,” added Professor Omigbodun.

There are so many other activities that have been found to be better stimulators of children that encourage the cognitive development of children like reading, the mother or the father reads to the child, after a while the child starts to read.

Activities like sports, playing musical instruments such as piano and guitar have also been found to be much better stimulators than watching TV aside from the fact that a lot of TV programmes give wrong information.

Professor Omigbodun declared that no apps, games or television programmes can take the place of communication or relationships of a mother or father with their child.

“TV in many ways is a distraction, and it does not allow for proper growth and development of a child,” she added.

Even if children are to watch TV, Dr Olutoke Omolara Ayorinde, a consultant ophthalmologist, said parents need to cultivate that time to see what they are watching. They need to sit there and watch with them as well as listen to their comments.

What is more, Dr Ayorinde said screen time for children should also be regulated to two to three hours of TV daily so that they can use their time doing other things that are more constructive.

She added “It has been proven that too much TV time affects their development, the way children reason and attitude to life. So, it is really about what they watch more, many other things such as ensuring a child rests well, eat well and exercise is equally important. We have to balance it all.”

As expected, there were measurable effects of increased TV time on habits as the children entered their teenage years. Since watching TV is sedentary both physically and mentally, studies suggest that connectivity may be disturbed in the rapidly developing toddler brain.

Moreover, it has the potential to set up negative habits for later life — choosing easier, less demanding activities over physically or mentally challenging pastimes, for example.

If unchecked, studies have shown, children who spend long hours in front of the television are likely to suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a psychiatric disorder common in children and adolescents.

Watching certain programmes may also encourage irresponsible sexual behaviour. Numerous studies document adolescents’ susceptibility to the media’s influence on their sexual attitudes, values and beliefs.

Too much screen time for children is also linked to anxiety and depression. According to a study, heightened levels and diagnosis of anxiety or depression in children as young as two years are linked to too much time spent on gaming, smart phones and watching television.

Among preschoolers, high users of screens were twice as likely to often lose their temper and 46 per cent more likely to not be able to calm down when excited.

Playing with mobile screens such as smartphones, iPads and tablets may help children builds social bonds and keep them busy as more parents work at home and schooling goes online. In spite of how quickly children might seem to adjust to new tech, that doesn’t mean they know how — or when — to use it.

In recent years, the ubiquity of digital devices coupled with poor screen use habits have become an integral part of lifestyles. But a recent research showed that such technology could pose special challenges for young brains of preschool age.

Researchers in Canada had linked high levels of screen time with delayed development in children, saying that children who spent more time with screens at two years of age did worse on tests of development at age three than children who had spent little time with devices.

They found that those who spent longer with screens at 24 months showed worse performance on tests at 36 months, and a similar trend was seen for screen time at 36 months and test performance at five years.

Writing in the journal Jama Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Waterloo, the University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute described how they investigated the issue by looking at the screen time and development of more than 2,400 children between the ages of two and five.

At two years, three years, and five years, mothers were asked to record how much time their child spent using screens, including time in front of the TV, computer and other devices. They also completed standard questionnaires to assess their child’s development.

What’s more, results from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study suggests that screen time may impact children’s brains and learning. This study that followed more than 11,000 9- and 10-year-olds at 21 sites throughout the United States found significant differences in the brains of some children who reported using smartphones, tablets and video games more than seven hours a day.

Children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

But watching television or playing video games to fill up the void is not the solution either. What is shocking is the long-term impact of this on a toddler. Somewhat surprisingly, the impact could be measured in the children’s dietary habits, weight and behaviour as teenagers.

The result of a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine indicated that each additional hour of TV viewing at the age of two predicted significantly worse eating habits at the age of 13.

Also, these children are less likely to make an effort in their first year of high school, which had an adverse effect on performance and ambition.

In total, almost 2,000 boys and girls born in Quebec in 1997–1998 were involved in the study. The children had been followed from the age of five months.

Parents reported TV habits as they grew, then, when the children reached the age of 13, they self-reported dietary habits and behaviour at school.

The researchers hypothesised that when toddlers watch too much TV it encourages them to be sedentary, and if they learn to prefer effortless leisure activities at a very young age, they likely won’t think much of non-leisure ones, like school, when they are older.

Paradoxically, TV watching or cartoon on an internet enabled device is generally a very passive activity, and passive activities do not allow for much cognitive stimulation.

The “2013 Nigerian Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth” showed that 90.9% of Nigerian children and youth in the urban and rural areas spend over three hours in front of the screen daily. Television viewing is 90.7%.

“What studies have shown is that watching TV by children does not contribute much to their cognitive development because they are just sitting down and they are not actively participating,” said Professor Yinka Omigbodun, a consultant, psychiatrist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State.

Aside from being a sedentary activity that promotes a lot of weight gain, she said a lot of parents use the TV as a babysitter, and that reduces the amount of interaction.

There is nothing like psychosocial stimulation of a child by a father or mother. Rather than talking to a child, the TV is there, so the parent is not finding out about how the child’s day has gone or even the child’s views.

“They do not even know their child because he or she is always watching TV in the house.  That interaction that parents and child should have or siblings to siblings should have is missing because of the TV,” added Professor Omigbodun.

There are so many other activities that have been found to be better stimulators of children that encourage the cognitive development of children like reading, the mother or the father reads to the child, after a while the child starts to read.

Activities like sports, playing musical instruments such as piano and guitar have also been found to be much better stimulators than watching TV aside from the fact that a lot of TV programmes give wrong information.

Professor Omigbodun declared that no apps, games or television programmes can take the place of communication or relationships of a mother or father with their child.

“TV in many ways is a distraction, and it does not allow for proper growth and development of a child,” she added.

Even if children are to watch TV, Dr Olutoke Omolara Ayorinde, a consultant ophthalmologist, said parents need to cultivate that time to see what they are watching. They need to sit there and watch with them as well as listen to their comments.

What is more, Dr Ayorinde said screen time for children should also be regulated to two to three hours of TV daily so that they can use their time doing other things that are more constructive.

She added “It has been proven that too much TV time affects their development, the way children reason and attitude to life. So, it is really about what they watch more, many other things such as ensuring a child rests well, eat well and exercise is equally important. We have to balance it all.”

As expected, there were measurable effects of increased TV time on habits as the children entered their teenage years. Since watching TV is sedentary both physically and mentally, studies suggest that connectivity may be disturbed in the rapidly developing toddler brain.

Moreover, it has the potential to set up negative habits for later life — choosing easier, less demanding activities over physically or mentally challenging pastimes, for example.

If unchecked, studies have shown, children who spend long hours in front of the television are likely to suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a psychiatric disorder common in children and adolescents.

Watching certain programmes may also encourage irresponsible sexual behaviour. Numerous studies document adolescents’ susceptibility to the media’s influence on their sexual attitudes, values and beliefs.

Too much screen time for children is also linked to anxiety and depression. According to a study, heightened levels and diagnosis of anxiety or depression in children as young as two years are linked to too much time spent on gaming, smart phones and watching television.

Among preschoolers, high users of screens were twice as likely to often lose their temper and 46 per cent more likely to not be able to calm down when excited.

 

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