The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 18 months avoid screens altogether, other than for video-chatting. The researchers gave parents a 15-item screening tool, ScreenQ, that reflects media recommendations based on the AAP screen. White matter is tied to things like language use, literacy and cognitive abilities.
A new study documents structural differences in the brains of preschool-age children related to screen-based media use.
For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs.
The study, which was published on Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, used a special type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging to scan white matter in the 47 participants' brains, and made several alarming finds - particularly relating to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.
"This study raises questions as to whether at least some aspects of screen-based media use in early childhood may provide sub-optimal stimulation during this rapid, formative state of brain development", lead author of the study John Hutton is quoted as saying by Science Daily. In other words, the connections were stronger between different networks in those children's brains.
- From 18 to 24 months, introduce digital media by watching quality programming like PBS Kids or Sesame Workshop with children.
It is also recommended that parents set aside media-free family time together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms. In the past, studies have linked high levels of screen-time and TV viewing to behavior issues, slowed language development, sleep troubles, attention deficit and more.
Meanwhile, children with higher ScreenQ scores also had "poorer expressive language and did worse on tests of language processing speed, like rapidly naming objects", the Times reported. The concern is that children with under-stimulated brains in early childhood could develop less efficient connections that become harder to reinforce or fix as they get older.
In addition, the tracts of white matter responsible for executive functions were also disorganized and underdeveloped (the parts of the brain shown in blue in the image).
Scientists compared MRI scans of nearly 50 children under six with the results of questionnaires completed by their parents setting out how long they spend on phones, tablets and watching TV.
Parents need to set the example for their children, Naidoo said.
"From my perspective, the biggest problems we are seeing is a lot less social engagement with children", she said.
The test measures how much access a child has to a screen (allowed at meals, car, in line at store?), the frequency of exposure (age started, number of hours, at bedtime?), content (chooses own? watches fighting or songs or education?) and "dialogic" interaction (does the child watch alone or does a parent interact and discuss the content as well?). "Kids who report five hours of screen time could have parents who use 10 hours of screen time". "We need to formulate national guidelines for permissible screen time for children". "While we still can not determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or involves long-term neurodevelopmental risks, these findings deserve further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits for the use of technology.".