An important new study demonstrates that children who spend a significant amount of time staring at digital screens suffer from changes in their brain’s white matter – a critical layer that helps kids learn to process words into language and meaningful communication.
Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the study comes on the heels of a slate of other studies and research showing kids’ use of smartphones continues to grow, kids are spending greater quantities of time watching online videos, and most worrisome of all, that two-thirds of kids cannot read literature and academic texts at acceptable rates.
This latest study of 47 children ages 3 to 5, was conducted by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The study included interviews of parents (how much are kids on screen, what are they watching, etc.) and MRI images of the children’s brains.
The researchers found that the structural changes in the children’s brains from excessive screen time – especially at a young age – were associated with lower levels of language and literacy skills. “While relatively small for a behavioral study, this is actually a fairly large MRI study, especially involving young children, [and] the first to explore associations between screen time and brain structure,” the study’s lead author, John Hutton, told MIT’s Technology Review.
So what’s a parent to do? Hutton has a simple motto: Screen-free until three, arguing that especially young children need to time to form “a solid anchor in the real world where their basic sense of connection with caregivers and early language skills have solidified.”
Beyond that? Researchers need more time to look into the long-term impact of screens and their content on developing brains. But for most, the answer is to control the quantity and quality of a child’s screen time.
In the meantime, we stumbled across this terrific little startup that is dedicated to helping parents make book reading as enjoyable as iPads. Founded (and funded) by tech veterans increasingly uncomfortable with the addictive hold screens have on kids, Literati aims to turn kids into readers of print-based books.
Sounds good to us.