Is screen-time literally shrinking your child's brain?

Are three hours a day on screens damaging your child’s brain? How about six hours a day? And what if they’re online pretty well constantly?

Questions like these keep digital parents up at night. And a new study of 4,500 young people, directed by the prestigious National Institutes of Health, is hoping to finally get answers.

The $300 million project is investigating the links between brain development and a range of environmental variables, including substance abuse, concussion - and yes, screen-time.

Preliminary findings from the study  - the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) project - were reported on the US edition of 60 Minutes this week. And they've been generating headlines, and sending parents into a panic, the world over.

Thinning of the cortex 

Of special concern is the finding that some heavy screen users showed “cortical thinning” at younger than average ages, and scored lower on some aptitude tests than kids who spent less time on screens.

Cortical thinning refers to a change in the structure of the cerebral cortex, and is normally associated with ageing, memory loss and other cognitive impairments.

The possible links between excessive screen time and attention deficits, mood disorders and learning difficulties are also under close investigation.

But before you panic ...

The-incredible-shrinking-man-1957-Louise-Scott

The research team has cautioned that the data are preliminary, and possibly meaningless. It doesn’t make for the greatest headlines - but, yes, science is sometimes like that.

One problem is that the study relies on “self-report” data not "observational" data. In layman's terms, that means that screen-time usage is based on what kids say - not researchers observe them actually doing. Such data can be highly inaccurate.

Another difficulty is that brain function is mind-bendingly complex and as yet poorly understood, even by the experts. One thing that is known is that there is a huge variation between individuals. That makes it really difficult to generalise findings.

Shape-shifting brains

Then there’s the problem that researchers have no idea whether the effects they’ve observed are permanent, or will be subject to still more changes as children mature.

screen warning

Ok, not those screens ...!

Because it’s not just our screen-time habits that mould the shape of our brains. So  so does every activity we habitually engage in. Reading. Writing. Sport. Music. Play.

That said, we know that the brain’s mould-ability or “neuroplasticity” is at its height during the pre- and early teen years. And that suggests that this is a particular critical time for brain development.

The good news is that study is large and rigorous and ongoing. The ABCD project will be following 11,800 children through adolescence and conducting yearly magnetic resonance imaging to track brain changes.

Gradually, a much clearer picture will be emerging of the the links between screen-time and brain changes - and between those changes and how young people actually behave and respond. Stay tuned!


Is it better to be safe than sorry? Most experts agree it’s only common sense to take steps right now to manage your child’s screen-time. Family Zone’s trusted parental controls can help. To learn more, or to start your free trial, visit familyzone.com today.

photo credit: "Warning Screen will not stop child from falling out window." by Steve and Sara is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, school holidays, brain, neuroplasticity

    Try Family Zone for FREE

    Sign up now to try Family Zone for 1 month, totally free of charge.

    Free Trial
    Subscribe to our newsletter
    Follow us on social media
    Popular posts
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | roblox
    Roblox: What parents must know about this dangerous game for kids
    Parental Controls | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | teens on social media
    Can we talk? 100 questions your teen might actually answer
    Parental Controls | Screen time | online gaming | roblox | sleep
    Family Zone: Now blocking Roblox with a single click
    Cyber Bullying | Parental Controls | Screen time | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | online predators | tiktok | paedophile | child predator | Likee
    LIKEE: What parents need to know about this risky TikTok wannabe
    Parental Controls | Screen time | online gaming | Fortnite | discord
    Discord: What parents need to know
    Parental Controls | online gaming | Social Media | primary school | krunker
    Krunker has landed - and it's got our kids in the crosshairs

    Recent posts

     
    How TikTok's funhouse mirror is distorting our kids' view of the world

    TikTok's algorithm pushes vulnerable kids toward risky content and risky behaviours, from eating disorders to self-harm.

     
    Would you pay to limit your own social media screen-time?

    We love our social platforms - but we also wish we spent less time on them.  A new study has found adult users are happy to pay for help in ...

     
    "Constant overstimulation" affecting kids' learning

    Teachers who've been observing concerning changes in students’ wellbeing aren’t imagining things. The constant overstimulation from screens ...

     
    Your child has less privacy online than kids in the US, UK & Ireland

    Aussie kids are sitting ducks for targeted online ads and privacy pirates, and will remain so until we enact protective legislation.