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Parents often worry about the amount of time their child is spending on electronics and how it is affecting their social skills, motivation, attention, emotional regulation, and neurological functioning.  Given the easy access to multiple media modes (TV, ipads, computers, iphones, etc.), electronics have become the “go to” in quiet moments. Screen time has also become the primary source of information and entertainment for children. Hence, these concerns are valid, particularly in light of the American Pediatric Association’s estimate that children in the U.S. spend an average of 7 hours a day on media devices.

A critical question to ask is does screen time effect neurological functioning (which can effect psychological and behavioral functioning), and if so what is the impact? There has been a significant amount of research conducted on this topic in recent years. An excellent research review article in Psychology Today outlines how excessive screen time has debilitating effects on brain tissue, including white matter, grey matter, and thickness, and how it can also impair dopamine functioning. The research suggests that the neurological changes impact sleep, attention, emotional regulation, impulsivity, cognitive functioning, and other executive functioning capacities. In sum, the research indicates that excessive screen time has a direct and negative effect on frontal lobe structure and functioning, and can also be addictive given the changes in dopamine functioning and receptors. Since this area of a child’s brain undergoes critical development until young adulthood, it makes sense that parents and professionals are concerned about the mass consumption of electronics, and the resulting effects of screen time on children.

Given the findings on screen time and neurology, researchers have turned their focus on the relationship between media use and behavioral and social-emotional functioning. UCLA recently conducted a creative study to demonstrate how electronic consumption can impair children’s ability to recognize emotions and non-verbal cues as reported by NPR. Researchers found that the students who went to camp for five days and did not have access to media devices scored significantly better when it came to identifying facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the children who continued to have access to electronic devices. In the NPR report, both Dr. Greenfield from UCLA and Dr. Hogan from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) caution parents and schools to better understand the effects of screen time on children.  Currently, the AAP recommends limiting electronics for children to: “Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.”

Not surprisingly, researchers are now questioning and exploring the effects of screen time on very young children. A very informative article in The Guardian describes how researchers at Boston University School of Medicine feel that there is sufficient data that children under 30 months cannot learn as well from television and videos as they can from human interaction. Dr. Radesky in Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine strongly suggests that human to human, hands on interaction is the most beneficial for a child’s socio-emotional development, and she explains how early screen time might impair empathy, communication, and emotional regulation. Perhaps this is the next important step in research to better understand the impact of screen time on early neurological functioning, so that parents, teachers, and professionals can be better informed on how to manage screen time for children from infancy to young adulthood.

11 responses to “Investigating the Effects of Screen Time on Children: Can Screen Time Be Addictive And Is It Harmful To My Child’s Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Development?”

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  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf