To much screen time linked to lower language skills and literacy development in children

Brain development can be diminished if children spend too much time in front of a screen, whether it be TV, computer or hand-held devices, especially in the areas connected to literacy and language development, according to a new study.

The study was done by researchers and scientists at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center located in Ohio and found lower ‘white matter integrity’ in children who spent more time in front of a screen than what was recommended by doctors.

‘White matter’ is linked with cognitive brain function and language skills. According to a published article in the MIT Technology Review, it is considered to be the brain’s internal communications network.

Participants in the study included 47 healthy children, of whom, 20 were boys and 27 were girls, between 3 and 5 years of age, and included their parents. In oder to look at the white matter in the brain, researchers completed special MRI scans and standard cognitive tests. A screening questionnaire was filled out by those parents who were involved in the study, which were compared to the MRI scans.

This study was small for behavioral research, but as far as an MRI study it is considered to be fairly large, particularly when it involved young children. It was the first study to examine the connection between brain structure and screen time, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. John Hutton, who commented in an interview with Technology Review.

The study, Hutton says, raises several questions as far as how much screen time is safe for younger children to be absorbing on a daily basis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, for the time being, has made the following recommendations:

•Children who are younger than 18 months should only be exposed to screens while it is being used for video chatting.

•For children who are between the ages of 2-5 years, only one hour of screen time per day should be allowed for watching ‘high quality programs.’

•Designated ‘screen-free’ activities should be planned by families.

•Parents should be involved during ‘screen time’ and watching the programs with their children so that they can provide context input to what is being watched.

Besides the lower white matter integrity found in children who spent more than the recommended time watching the screen, researchers also found that those kids ended up with lower expressive language skills, had less ability in being able to quickly name objects and were lower in overall literacy skills.