Does Too Much Screen Time Damage The Brain?

 In Psychology Today, Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. said too much screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with average exposure to TV, phone, video, computer, and other screens. Dr. Dunckley sees many children who suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention.

Dr. Dunckley also cites research that shows that screen addiction can cause less efficient information processing, reduced impulse inhibition, loss of communication within the brain, loss in the capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others, and (with video game addiction) an increase in dopamine being released leading to brain changes that are similar to drug cravings.

Many children are concerned. A March/April 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 54 percent of U.S. teens said they spend too much time on their cell phones, and 60 percent of them consider spending too much time online to be a “major problem.”

There’s also the $300-million Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study) being conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The first results from the study show that kids who spent more than two hours per day on screens scored lower on language and thinking tests. But much more research needs to be done.

Not all research has found negative results. One research team, based at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed brain scans from more than 4,500 preteens. Their findings were mixed. Screen time could be both good and bad for the brain, depending on the individual and his or her viewing habits.  Disentangling negative consequences to physical brain development from positive ones will be enormously difficult, given the many factors potentially in play: marijuana, drinking, vaping, genetics, changes at home or school, the emotional storm of adolescence, and more.

For now, parents may just want to follow common sense practices:

  1. Talk about the dangers.
    Have conversations to help your children understand that it’s not healthy to watch too much TV. Explain how violent video games, movies, and images can be harmful. Be sure they know your motivation for the talk is to keep them healthy.
  1. Set a good example.
    Don’t keep the TV on all the time or scroll through your phone every time you have a few spare minutes. Don’t spend the evening on social media.
  1. Create technology-free zones and times in your home.
    Establish rooms where you don’t allow smartphones or other tech. Restrict meals to face to face conversations.
  2. Encourage other activities.
    Encourage your children to play outside, read books, and play board games. Build a simple outside activity that they enjoy (basketball hoop, badminton court, soccer goal, etc.) and spend time playing with them.

For more information go the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study)