Recent research shows that exposing children to too much electronic screen will cause white matter in the brain to develop slowly, leading to reduced cognitive ability, long speech and poor literacy skills.

In recent years, the use of children's smart devices has increased to an alarming rate. Researchers on the effects of TVs, tablets and smartphones have reported that children aged 3-5 use the screen for more than 1 hour a day without parental intervention. White brain development level is lower than that of normal children.
"This is the first study to recognize the relationship between screen use and the formation of brain structure and skills for preschoolers," said Dr. John Hutton, clinical researcher at the Hospital. Pediatric Cincinnati - said.

In children, white matter is the key to language development, literacy and cognition. “This is important because the brain grows fastest in the first five years. At that time, the brain was very flexible, able to absorb everything and was in the process of forming strong and lasting connections, ”he added.

Smart devices are everywhere around children
Studies show that excessive attention to TV screens and phones is linked to children being unable to pay attention and thinking clearly, while increasing eating habits and some behavioral issues. least.

There is a correlation between being too focused on the screen and having slow speech, sleeping less deeply, not listening, and reducing interactions between parents and babies.

“Children who watch TV, phones, and use electronic devices often grow up in families who spend most of their time on computers and smart devices. When children watch television programs for 5 hours a day, their parents may spend 10 hours focusing on computer screens. They will put children next to them and give them iPads or phones to entertain because they do not have time to interact with them, ”Hutton said.

In addition, these devices are ubiquitous making children more exposed to them every day. Children can watch phones when they are about to sleep, on the way to play, when eating or when parents are too busy ... Moreover, the age of children exposed to electronic screens is getting lower and lower.
“About 90% of children use screen devices when they are 1 year old. We have done some research in which children begin to come into contact with screens when they are 2-3 months old, ”Hutton said. He has published a number of studies that use MRI technology to look at the impact of TVs and phones on a child's reading ability.

The study used a special magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method to examine the brains of 47 perfectly healthy children (27 girls and 20 boys) who have not yet started kindergarten. MRI images clearly show the amount of white matter in the brain. White matter is the part that connects different components of gray matter.

Children watch phones and computers a lot, causing brain retardation
White matter makes up 60% of the brain, including the myelin sheath, star cells and glia. This is the part responsible for transmitting nerve signals, helping the brain areas to work together smoothly, so that we can think, focus and solve problems faster. In addition, white matter also plays an important role in helping regulate emotions, movement activities and balance the body.

This is a system similar to a cable, they connect with different components in the brain to help the body coordinate more smoothly. When these "cables" do not develop, they will slow down the processing speed of the brain. On the other hand, research shows that the ability to read, juggle and play an instrument improves the brain's white matter organization and structure.

Before taking an MRI scan, children are given a cognitive test, and parents fill out a scoring system for screen time using a device developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Test to measure the extent and length of time children are exposed to the screen (during meals, in a car, while in a queue for a checkout?), Frequency of exposure (age of initiation, number of hours, bedtime? ), what content the child is watching (self-selected or songs, educational programs?) and interactivity (does the child watch alone or with parents discussing the program being watched?)

Results showed that children who use electronic screens more than the recommended time of AAP (one hour a day) and without parental interaction will be slower to develop white matter in the brain.

“The average screen time for children is more than 2 hours a day, ranging from 1 hour to 5 hours.

The white matter area responsible for managing the activity is also disturbed and retarded (the green area in the image below).

Children watch phones and computers a lot, causing brain retardation
"These findings are very interesting, but only preliminary," Jenny Radesky - a pediatrician not involved in the study - commented.

In fact, it is not the use of the device that inhibits the production of white matter, but the time spent watching TV too passively, causing the brain to not think and develop slowly. And focusing so much on the screen keeps the child from having other brain-friendly experiences.
In the early years of life, children need to interact, encourage speaking and communicating, playing with loved ones to develop thinking, problem-solving practice and some other skills. In fact, neurons in the brain are connected to each other, so the more we do something, the more that activity is strengthened and "etched" into the mind.

Test results show less skill than usual
In addition to the MRI results, the cognitive test results show that excessive focus on TV and telephone is also significantly related to the development of literacy skills and the ability to use the child's expressive language. In addition, children will respond slowly, the ability to name objects is also worse than normal.

Hutton notes that these results are approximate, requiring more in-depth clinical trials to learn specifics. However, over time, the impact of electronics on children will increase. Increasing, the baby will tend to be less retarded than peers. Children who start with a retarded brain rarely have good results and succeed in school.

Radesky wants trials to be replicated in other research populations. "Researchers and pediatricians should use this finding as the basis for further research in the future." There are many factors in the family and living environment that affect the development of the brain - for example, stress, health and the spirit of parents, play experiences and language exposure time. None of these factors are included in this study, ”she said.

What should parents do?
According to Radesky, every parent's decision to raise a child influences a child's brain development, but we can see this as an important opportunity. Interactive activities with parents such as reading, singing, talking, walking or spending free time to play with ... can help your baby develop more actively.

Depending on the age, parents can consider whether or not to expose their children to electronic devices such as phones, tablets, and TVs. You can refer to the instructions for each age below:

All children under 18 months of age should not be exposed to electronic screens, except for video chat with family and relatives. At this age, babies need to interact with caregivers and their surroundings. One study found that even turning on a passive TV in a room negatively affects a child's ability to play and interact with the surroundings.

When they turn 2 years old, they can learn words in dialogue patterns or videos they watch everyday. If parents watch and explain the content, the child will absorb better.

Kinder Garten
For children ages 3-5, a well-designed television program can help your child improve cognitive abilities, increase vocabulary and develop some social skills. However, AAP notes that many educational applications on the market today are not invested and developed by experts. The best method is that parents should play with or expose their children to many peers.

Similar to toddlers, preschoolers will learn better lessons if they watch and interact with them.

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