Are We Right to be Concerned about Kids Glued to their Screens?

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A recent pediatric study may provide clues on the full extent of the effects of smartphones and screens on kids brain development.

When speaking to parents everyone one has a different opinion, some expressed with concerns, others with adamancy, about the effect of technology and screens on kids.  Gen Z or the iGeneration  – kids that have grown up during the age of the Blackberry, the iPod and the iPhone – haven’t quite finished growing up so studies about the effects on their brain of having content available to them at any given time. Especially by an exhausted parent or one that just needs their child to be quiet during a meal at a restaurant (totally guilty #sorrynotsorry).

However a recently published study of a select sample of kids did confirm what we feared most: that kids who are entertained by being read to vs. those that were entertained by watching do experience different brain development.  Per the NPR, the study – using audio, visual perception and visual imagery – found:

In the audio-only condition (too cold): language networks were activated, but there was less connectivity overall. “There was more evidence the children were straining to understand.”

In the animation condition (too hot): there was a lot of activity in the audio and visual perception networks, but not a lot of connectivity among the various brain networks. “The language network was working to keep up with the story,” says Hutton. “Our interpretation was that the animation was doing all the work for the child. They were expending the most energy just figuring out what it means.” The children’s comprehension of the story was the worst in this condition.

The illustration condition was what Hutton called “just right”.

Basically, kids who absorb a story by simply watching may be less able at “forming mental pictures based on what they read, much less reflecting on the content of a story.”  This sounds right – if you are spoonfed information why would your brain (unless you’re wired in a different way) spend the time and energy to process information differently?

Either way, it is food for thought and I’m looking forward to seeing further research conducted on larger sample sizes.



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