How screen time affects the child
HOW SCREEN TIME AFFECTS THE CHILD
Interview with Dr. Gergana Markova
Dr. Markova: Most of the structure of the brain is built during the first 3 years of a person’s life. When a child is born, the brain and architecture is only 25% of the size of an adult. At 1 year of age, it is about 70% and at 3 years of age, it is about 85%. Therefore, the first 1000 days are very important for a child’s brain development.How does screen time affect language development according to different brain sciences?
Speech therapists: A new study from the Hospital for Children of Canada followed almost 900 young children between the ages of six months and two years. It found that children between the ages of 0 and 3 who were exposed to more screen time showed more delayed expressive language skills (ie, the ability to say words and sentences). It also found that every 30-minute increase in daily screen time resulted in a 49% increased risk of expressive language delay!
Psychologists: Children raised in front of the screen show more aggression and antisocial behavior. The reason for this is the missed opportunities for active interaction with people and understanding of others and oneself, necessary for building the personality as a social individual. What consequences can excessive screen time lead to in a child’s development from a scientific point of view and examples from your professional practice?
Neuroscientists: Structural changes in the brain during the period of intensive formation (0-6 years) – research conducted in 2020. with 69 children 3-5 years of age found a weaker formation of white matter in the brain (neural connections) of children exposed to the influence of electronic devices above the recommended maximum values of APA (American Academy of Pediatrics), which is responsible for the development of speech, literacy, and the cognitive functions that depend on them.
The image above shows the three main neural pathways (axon bundles) responsible for language and literacy: in white is the arcuate fasciculus, which connects the brain areas responsible for the perception and expression of language. The area in brown is responsible for the rapid naming of objects (recognition), and the one in beige – is the visual image.
In blue, a smaller amount of white tissue is observed in children who spend more than an hour (1-5 hours) per day in front of screens.
In my practice of over 20 years, children raised with the help of electronic devices have difficulty holding their gaze and communicating, with social interest largely or completely absent – schooling and parenting are severely hampered or impossible without therapy, depending on how long has the brain missed in its development.
The later work with the child is started, the more difficult and slow it is to compensate for missed developmental stages.
Working with such a child requires us to take him back to his earliest months after birth and track which stages of neural maturation have been skipped to begin teaching the brain basic skills such as balance, senses, integration of primal reflexes, gaze retention, attention, boundaries, self-awareness, and communication that should have happened then.
Only then, following the sequence laid down in the evolution of the human nervous system – after the first year, when the neural network has sufficiently matured, can one work on speaking, good behavior, and independence.
That’s why I think that every minute, and hour in front of the screens is a lost opportunity to learn through the senses, communication if you will.
The brain of a 0- to 3-year-old child forms over 1 million neural connections per second, and each neuron makes about 15,000 neural connections with other neurons-many of them quite long and spanning the entire brain in width and length. Imagine how much of a tangled neural network the brain has built when regularly watching a screen for months in a small child-the child’s resistance to sensory, speech therapy, and psychological work is fierce, and the difficulties for parents – are nightmarish.
What is the optimal time for viewing screen devices in the period 0-6 years?
The recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics for a maximum of 1 hour per day for children 3 to 5 years old is the absolute maximum, and even there the negative consequences are clear.
The visual apparatus crosses the entire brain from the face to the crown, where the visual cortex is located – the stimulus is so strong that the inclination to use screens has been likened to an addiction.
Hormones that invade all areas and bring pleasure from the stimulus do not support curiosity about the world, interest in the person opposite, trying new games, foods, toys, learning processes, or participating in them.
It is natural for the brain to receive sensory information in healthy amounts from all the senses. Over-stimulation through only one sense, without the participation of the others and that of the body, damages the brain structurally, and the child qualitatively.
If the child is already overdoing the screen time, how can parents set rules and boundaries and follow them accordingly during these periods of home office and pandemic?
For something different to happen, we have to do something new. Not only should the child get rid of the screen, but also the parents should find alternatives for free time and share it with the family. It is a change in lifestyle and mindset that is difficult but opens up new horizons for parenting and quality of life.
Explain to the child what will change and why. They understand and being a person they will resist, which is perfectly normal and healthy.
Be ready for strong resistance and rebellion – you still have a strong will and intellect in front of you – this is not torture, deprivation, and cruelty – use the energy of rebellion towards the reformation that is ahead. Argue without going into explanation mode and take broad, serene strides forward.
The child will follow you!
Follow your own rules – maintain boundaries to structure a healthy psyche.
Show the child that new circumstances are interesting – instead of lying in front of the TV in the evening, you can get them involved in wrestling on the floor/grass, smearing with yogurt, rolling in flour, etc.
Sensory games stimulate the development of senses and communication. After a while, the more relaxed games will come.
Discover the pleasure of real conversation with each other – the human soul is a universe full of surprises. Invent games, challenges, and adventures – look at the world from a new perspective. Stare into your child’s eyes, seek his gaze – provoke communication. Use nature – it is your ally – rain, blizzard, sun – if a child is outside, they wind down and begin to function at the speed at which the world around them vibrates.
Don’t be afraid of their newly discovered boredom, let them be bored, stare out the window and grumble – doing nothing is actually a natural form of meditation in which a person connects with themself and the world around.
Turn everyday chores into fun, this is how you pull the child into a social experience – for example, the everyday bathroom can turn out to be a disco with the latest tracks, bedtime – a fairy tale in action with a new, improvised plot of yours, with a bonus blissful squishing (part of the plot, perhaps), the dinner being a role-playing theater (an audience with the king in the drawing room).
The brain is hungry, ACTUALLY for these very experiences, not mediated by characters on the screen.
Experience it too, and you will reinvent parenting and your child.
Christakis, DA (2009). The effects of infant media usage: what do we know and what should we learn? Review Article. Acta Paediatrica, 98, 8-16.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2017). Handheld Screen Time Linked with Speech Delays in Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Handheld-Screen-Time-Linked-with-Speech-Delays-in-Young-
Zimmerman, FJ, Christakis, DA & Meltzoff, AN (2007). Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years. The Journal of Pediatrics, 151, 364-368.
Canadian Pediatric Society (2017). Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Retrieved from HTTPS://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/screen-time-and-young-children”
American Academy of Pediatrics (2017). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/american-academy-of-