Unplug Your Children!
Written By Guest Blogger: Jessica Zwilling COVT
My almost 4 year old niece recently asked me, “Aunt Jessica, why do you not ever have your TV on?” What a loaded question! I did not have a quick answer ready for her, so I had to pause and think about choosing my words wisely.
Make it short and simple to understand.
Probably shouldn’t say anything about zombies.
Developmental delays? No, that wouldn’t make any sense to a 3 year old.
I think I answered with something like, “TV is not good for your brain.” To this she replied, “My TV is good for my brain. It makes me more smarter when I learn lots of different things!” I came back with, “Actually, reading books and playing with puzzles and toys makes you smarter; not TV.”
She was not impressed with my reasoning, and ran off to continue some constructive playtime with my almost 4 year old. And I couldn’t help but smile because I knew they were “getting smarter” by the minute as they tore through all the toys in the house.
I must be doing a good job at keeping my kids somewhat “unplugged” for a toddler to make and verbalize this observation of me. What she doesn’t know is how hard it is for me to stick to my guns on the screen time situation. Birth to 2 years is a no-brainer. You accept the fact that you will get very little done each day including basic functions like showering and using the toilet. But, once the kiddies get closer to 3 and 4, are no longer taking naps, and are not yet in school, the screen (TV, computer, tablet, smart phone) becomes more and more enticing. As a parent you can hear it calling you.
Just one Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (25 minutes). I could get in a quick shower and change out of pajamas.
Just one Sesame Street (60 minutes). Check email, pay some bills, make a few phone calls, eat a meal uninterrupted!
Just one Disney Movie (90-120 minutes). Finally finish a blog post!
But it is not often that I give in to the temptation (unfortunately for Robert and VT Works). I’ve read dozens of articles, abstracts, and various media posts warning against too much screen time for kids. I know deep down that screen time is not healthy for child development. But let’s talk specifics. If anyone over the age of 4 asks me about my views on screen time for children, I better have some facts to back up my statement of, “TV is not good for your brain.”
TV rots your brain…literally.
You’ve heard at least one adult in your life say it when you were a kid. Now there’s proof. Very recent neuro-imaging research shows that excessive screen time damages the brain. Dr. Victoria Dunckley gives a good summary on the topic in Psychology Today, citing studies from within the last five years. In a nutshell, she says that multiple studies have shown atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas (where processing occurs) in internet/gaming addiction. Research has also shown compromised white matter integrity (the brain’s network connector), reduced cortical thickness which correlated with impairment of a cognitive task, and impaired dopamine function similar to drug cravings. Much of the damage occurred in the brain’s frontal lobe which controls our executive functions (reasoning, organizing, impulse control, motor skills, higher level cognition, expressive language).
That all sounds pretty serious, right? Of course, these studies were conducted with individuals considered to have had a screen-time addiction. Yet, based on this information, it is reasonable to conclude that even children with “average” screen time viewing habits (estimated at 7 hours per day!) could sustain subtle brain damage. In my opinion, brain damage is brain damage, no matter how subtle. We put helmets on our children before they go to ride their bikes in order to prevent possible brain damage. Why are more parents not limiting screen time in order to prevent possible brain damage?
Now that’s just a look into how screen time can create structural changes in the brain. Functional change and physical health comes into play as well. Scientists have explored and continue to explore how screen-time can affect behavior and development. Let’s look at effects on vision, speech delays, behavior problems, and even health concerns…next time.