Screen time can negatively impact child brain development, MRI scans show

More time spent staring into screens can negatively impact the development of children’s brains, particularly regions associated with language development, according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Researchers compared diffusion tensor MRI scans—used to determine white matter integrity in the brain—with a widely used metric to gauge screen use called ScreenQ. On average, median screen time per day was 1.5 hours; about 60% of kids ages 3 to 5 had their own mobile device, according to reporting from the New York Times.

Children with higher ScreenQ scores had lower measures of structural integrity and myelination, particularly in areas involved with language and literacy skills. The results underlined the need to make sure kids are ready to use mobile devices such as tablets, and that they maintain the real-world relationships needed to stimulate brain growth, John S. Hutton, MD, director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told the Times.

“Kids this age, they need human experiences for their brains to develop optimally and reinforce these tracts,” Hutton said. “We just really need to be careful about making sure kids have access to these same human interactive experiences that probably our brains are wired to require.”

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