Taming the One-Eyed Beast: Why Screen Time Matters

American children spend an average of more than six hours glued to a screen (be it a computer, a TV, or a tablet). Researchers can now document the effects of extensive television exposure through studies of the human brain, for example, a study of Japanese children noticed changes in the brain that were correlated to screen time:

“A new study of Japanese children has linked TV time with changes in their growing brains. And the more television a kid watches, the more profound the brain differences, scientists reported Nov. 20 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Researchers studied kids between age 5 and 18 who watched, on average, about two hours of television a day. Brain scans revealed that the more TV a child watched, the larger certain parts of the brain were. Grey matter volume was higher in regions toward the front and side of the head in kids who watched a lot of TV…

In this case, higher brain volume in these kids was associated with a lower verbal IQ. Study co-author Hikaru Takeuchi of Tohoku University says that these brain areas need to be pruned during childhood to operate efficiently. ‘Gray matter volume is like body weight,’ Takeuchi says: The scales can be tipped by both muscle and fat.”
— Washington Post

Research indicates that TV viewing and video gaming are linked to a range of negative behaviors: violence, aggression, obesity, poor academic performance, stubbornness, limited communication skills, and behavior that is not age appropriate. With my own children, I noticed it was almost like their brains took a vacation, it was so hard to get their attention. Because of this, I started calling a screen time brain, "Lizard Brain."

Each time a child is watching television or playing a video game, time for other activities that are imperative for a child’s natural development are severely limited. Childhood is a period of growth and development; when kids need to play both alone and with peers. Playing is a child’s work! Children also need to talk! Talking with adults as well as other children develops imperative oral language skills. 

Every minute that your child spends in front of a screen is one fewer minute that he could spend learning from your interactions with him or practicing his interactions with you.
— Speech and Language Kids

The amount of violence on television and in video games is increasing and experts agree that this violence is harmful to young children. Children who see violence on TV or in games can become frightened, worried, suspicious, withdrawn, or may develop bullying behaviors. Researchers also have found that children who watch violence on television (including cartoons and gaming) are encouraged that bullying and aggressive behavior is acceptable.

Many research studies indicate that excessive television viewing and video gaming has a detrimental effect on learning and school performance. The hours spent viewing television interfere with homework and with natural learning opportunities. If a child is not performing well academically, the first question should be, is that child is watching too much TV or playing excessive and/or violent video games?

Television, video games, computers, and tablets are fabulous inventions with numerous educational and entertaining implications. However, when it comes to young children, they must be used wisely. Set limits! Replace that extra time with alternate activities such as sports, games, play, chores, reading conversation, homework,  or hobbies.  Just like anything, limiting screen time will have a withdrawal process, so start by making slow changes. Soon the amount of time spent staring at a screen will be manageable and your child will thank you!