Watching TV or playing video games for long periods can lead to poor learning and language skills in children: Study

Longer screen time, say researchers, hampers brain development in children; they recommend that parents must limit screen time for children - aged 2 to 5 years - to an hour a day


                            Watching TV or playing video games for long periods can lead to poor learning and language skills in children: Study

Preschool children, who use smartphones, computer, television, or video games for long periods, have poor language and learning abilities, says a new study.

When a team from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center examined the brains of these children, they found a difference in the structure of the brain involved in language and other literacy skills. The findings, say the researchers, suggests that long screen times hamper brain development in children.

"Screen-based media use is prevalent and increasing in home, childcare and school settings at ever younger ages. These findings highlight the need to understand the effects of screen time on the brain, particularly during stages of dynamic brain development in early childhood, so that providers, policymakers and parents can set healthy limits," says Dr. John Hutton from Cincinnati Children's Hospital and lead author of the study.  

The team recommends that parents must limit screen time for children — aged 2 to 5 years — to an hour a day. An earlier study reported that children, on average, spend 2 to 3 hours a day in front of a screen.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued guidelines regarding the same in April this year. "Children under five must spend less time sitting and watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats. They should get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy," say the guidelines. 

“Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life,” says Dr. Fiona Bull, president of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health.

Excess screen time was associated with poor learning abilities, lower expressive language, and poor ability to rapidly name objects (Getty Images)

Earlier studies have documented brain developmental issues in children due to excessive screen time hampers.

The current study tracks changes in brains of children in response to excess screen time. The study includes 47 healthy children — 27 girls and 20 boys — between the ages of 3 and 5. The researchers first examined how the children would fare in intelligence tests. After this, the team took images of the children's brains using diffusion tensor MRI in order to look at the brain structure called white matter. The researchers then included parents in the study and recorded their responses. The results from all the experiments were subsequently compared and analyzed.

According to the results, children exposed to high screen time showed poor learning abilities and language skills. These children had changes in parts of the brain that support learning and language skills, says the analysis.

Talking about the study, Dr. Hutton says, "While we can't yet determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or implies long-term neurodevelopmental risks, these findings warrant further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits on technology use."

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