Screen Time’s Impact on Neurological Development

Students are required to be online around the clock to complete and manage assignments, study, and keep up with social obligations. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that new research from the Common Sense Census reports that screen time has doubled since the 1990s.

The discrepancy between the actual time that children are spending using technology and the recommendations by medical professionals regarding limits on technology usage is leading to a host of negative neurological repercussions. A recent study conducted by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center highlighted the influence that repeated exposure to screen time has on students ranging from 3 to 5 years of age. The results indicate that increased screen time is correlated with the underdevelopment of the left side of the brain, resulting in decreased linguistic and reading development, self-regulation, and processing speed. In addition, the white matter that composes most of the deeper tissue of the brain is also compromised, which negatively impacts organizational skills as well as language-based executive functioning and literacy abilities.

Further Repercussions: Students with ADHD & the Ability to “Multitask”

Exposure to screen time impacts children with ADHD to an even greater extent. According to a recent presentation given by Dr. Oren Boxer, every time we engage in an activity that is necessary for our survival, we release dopamine. In children with ADHD, this production of dopamine occurs at a lower level unless they are engaged in a task that is highly interesting to them (e.g. video games, social media, etc.) However, during any extremely stimulating activities, the brains of children with ADHD release an excess of dopamine, which floods them with positive feelings, thus reinforcing the associated behavior. In short, chronic use of screens has the capacity to physiologically alter the reward network in the brains of children and adolescents.

Finally, it is important to note that our brains are not meant to multitask, which is exactly what we are demanding of them when we switch back and forth between the task at hand and forays on social media. In another recent presentation, Dr. James Varga indicated that brain matter is only capable of completing one given cognitive task at a time; therefore, what we deem as “multitasking” is actually a rapid oscillation between different content, rather than simultaneous engagement in two activities. As a result, an attentional residue accumulates with every alteration of content, causing delays in reimmersion on the task at hand and decreased access to higher order thinking skills. Students who constantly fluctuate between studying and checking devices squander immense amounts of time and competence. In fact, a study by the University of California, Irvine reports that it takes as many as 23 minutes to refocus on the task at hand.

Many of our students struggle to state how long homework tasks take to complete. For some, the back and forth between homework and off-task activities is to blame. A student may be in her room “working” on assignments from 6pm until 12am, but how much of that time was spent actively focused and engaged with homework and study tasks? How much time was sacrificed reimmersing in tasks after getting lost on YouTube, BuzzFeed or social media?

The multitasking woes are real. Let’s support students in redefining the value of their time by teaching them how to use this nonrenewable resource effectively. Stay tuned for our third blog on social media about parenting tips for managing and regulating technology.

~Dana Musulin

Director, Hayutin & Associates

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Tel: 310.829.7505

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