Excess screen time can cause premature thinning of the cortex in children

12:09 pm Health Care, Heart Care Foundation of India, Medicine

Parents should set an example and limit their screen time as well

New Delhi, 11 December 2018: Researchers have found “different patterns” in brain scans among children who record heavy smart device and video game use. The first wave of information from the $300 million National Institute of Health (NIH) study is showing that 9- and 10-year-old kids spending more than seven hours a day using such devices show signs of premature thinning of the cortex, the brain’s outermost layer that processes sensory information.

The NIH data also showed that kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens score worse on language and reasoning tests. The academy now recommends parents “avoid digital media use — except video chatting — in children younger than 18 to 24 months.”

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee, Dr KK Aggarwal, President, HCFI, said, “The impact of excess screen time is not just restricted to the eyes. A child’s brain develops rapidly in the first six years and needs constructive stimulation instead of a passive one. Screen content only makes for passive viewing. More than 10 minutes of exposure at a time can affect the development of the brain. There is a marked increase in screen time today, particularly among children. While it may seem easier to get work done or make the child eat by playing videos for them, it can have several long-term health implications. Watching something on the phone while having food may lead to overeating by blunting the child’s satiety signals. They can start making unhealthy connections between food and entertainment. Too much screen time is also a risk factor for developing myopia or short-sightedness. It can also lead to immense strain on the eyes and cause dry eyes.”

Screen-based media can influence children and their behavior; for example, children can copy or be influenced by negative behavior, stereotypical representations of gender, violent imagery or coarse language they see in advertising and other media.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also the Group Editor-in-chief of IJCP, said, “Having access to so many different streams of information through gadgets has been found to decrease the brain’s grey matter density, which is responsible for cognition and emotional control. In this digital era, the key to good health should be moderation, that is, moderate use of technology. Most of us have become slaves to devices that were really meant to free us and give us more time to experience life and be with people. And we are leading our children in the same path as well.”

Some tips from HCFI

  • Instead of giving them a phone to keep them busy, spend some time interacting with them and talking to them. This will eliminate the need for a device.
  • Put computers or TVs in shared spaces. This way it will be easier to keep track of their usage and limit screen time.
  • Ensure devoting few hours in a day to zero screen time for the entire household.
  • If, as parents, you devote a lot of time to mobiles and computers, children are naturally inclined to follow suit. Be a positive role model for them.
  • Meal times should be free from screens and a time for the family to sit together and eat. Make this a practice.
  • Ensure that the children spend sufficient time in outdoor activities. This will make them less prone to using Smartphone.

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