Parenting Basics Series (#2)
Geoffrey M. Gluckman, MSc
Digital Devices and Screen Time
The digital age is certainly upon us. It brings unprecedented access to information and learning, which is positive. However, it brings less positive aspects, such as “screen time” concerns. The dangers of many hours spent in front of broadcasting screens of varying sizes are not fully known at present, especially for young developing brains.
Parents would be wise to limit the use of digital devices and screen time for their children (especially 12 years and younger). First, because the effects are unknown. Second, because recent research shows spikes in the brain, similar to drugs and addiction, when emails, texts, and other alerts are received (1). Third, and most important for Functional Neurological Development within young brains, the visual images seen on digital devices represent three-dimensional images that are not real. The developing brains of our children need to learn in as many ways as possible from real world stimuli. This allows all the regions of the brain to properly develop and grow. This means having a young child exposed to auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (by touch) stimuli in the real world, preferably all at the same time. Our visual sense is the weakest of human sensory abilities (2). Therefore, excess screen time could create imbalances in your child’s sensory functioning. Also, the developed visual abilities would be based on things that are not real, nor touched.
Similar caveats (cautions) apply to hearing. Many kids are spending countless hours with earbuds (earpieces) in their ears. The long term effect on this delicate part of human anatomy is not yet known.
However, the importance for hearing development to occur naturally is critical for survival in the real world. The placement of ears on each side of the head allows you to hear a sound and often determine from which direction it comes. Your ears are also critical for the development of your sense of balance (ability to stand on one leg). Both of these functions may be hindered by listening to sounds (music) through earpieces.
Parents would do well to limit the screen time for their children and instead encourage play and learning through real world pursuits. Experiencing and interacting with the real world in natural environments provides opportunities for normal brain growth and development in all of the bodily senses, as well as real world social skills development. In fact, “forest kindergartens” are becoming more popular because of the positive effects on young children and their brains (3). Recent research shows that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s command center) to relax and rest(1).
Best wishes to all families.
1) Strafer, David. Cognitive psychologist. University of Utah.
2) Montague, Ashley. Touching.
3) Bateman, Greg. Stanford University. Kaplan, Stephen and Rachel. University of Michigan.