Is Screen Time Hindering Your Child’s Cognitive Development?

Sheena Joseph | Mar 17 2019
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My toddler is an expert in posing for selfies. She knows to unlock my smartphone and find video games without my help. I think she is going to be a smart girl since she learnt all this by herself at such a young age.

How many of us take pride in making these statements?

Science however think the other way. Behavioural studies show that excessive screen time might be hindering the cognitive development in children. While you are thinking that your child is getting advanced exposure to the world and hence acquiring more information, their brain is not undergoing the rapid development process which is age appropriate.

If tech tycoons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates denied their children screen time until they are 14 years old, there must be a substantial reason behind it. They probably understand the consequences of the abuse of their own products better than the consumers.

Why Are Children Fond Of Electronic Devices?

Before you say that your child was born with a liking for smartphones and cartoon channels, double checking the facts will be a cool idea. It is true that children are fond of electronic devices. Most of them act like they were born with instincts to operate them. The reason is the simple human tendency to observe.

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Your child has been seeing you using these devices since they were born. To them, it is something that makes interesting sounds and emits light. Since their parents are always glued to it, the little brain assumes that it is safe and fun.

“She makes such as fuss about eating. But, once you switch on the cartoon channel, I can feed her easily. I can even finish my chores with no trouble.” The reasons are true. But how does it affect your child in the long run? For example, if your child is eating without any fuss while the TV is on, it is because she is not paying attention to food. Her complete focus is on TV.

Children are attracted to bright colours and movement and funny sounds. While these programmes may help with language acquisition, they also normalise violence. Even the language development is not ideal as the child isn’t grasping the regional dialect. Several pieces of research have linked TV programmes as a factor in the growing number of obese children and students with ADHD.

How Is Cognitive Development Linked To Screen Time?

The development of the brain is heavily influenced by the quality and nature of the experiences a child has. 90% of brain development happens in this period. From birth to age five, the brain is developing fast and this period is meant for learning. When the child is using these electronic devices, they are not exploring their own thinking capacity. Information and experiences are spoon-fed to the children, which denies them the opportunity to use and improve their cognitive abilities.

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The pattern they are familiarising themselves with is not figuring out a solution but a device providing the solution them. If the child grows up to suffer from lack of imagination, it will be no surprise. Your child is supposed to explore, experiment and learn from concepts such as trial and error, fight or flight, and find insights. She will not understand what fire is unless she goes near a candle. Watching it on TV will not create a complete realistic concept of fire in her brain.  

Learning is a lot about memory. But, rote learning is not as effective as meaningful learning. If your child’s brain hasn’t developed properly, lack of ability to find meanings to concepts and lack of frameworks which should have developed at a young age will affect the ability to remember lessons.

The brain of a toddler makes at least a million neural connections every second. An individual’s cognitive abilities and personality development until the end of their lives are based on these connections made in the first few years. These neural connections are stimulated by experiences through senses. Hence, it is only ideal that the child experiences a healthy relationship with caregivers and the natural environment, not just with the electronic devices.

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According to the study conducted by Jeremy Walsh, an exercise physiologist, the three guidelines for healthy brain development are two hours or less screen time, nine hours of sleep, and physical activity. From his study at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada, he concluded that children who didn’t follow the guidelines performed 4% worse in thinking related tests than children who followed the guidelines.

Screen time and cognitive development in children is a controversial and extensively researched field. The invasion of TV, computer, video games, and smartphone in children’s routine will eventually lead to hampered communication skills, social interaction skills, and problem-solving skills. For children below the age of two, it is recommended to avoid screen time completely. Two hours of screen time could not hurt the cognitive development of children of the age group three or above.

Video Games and Emotional Intelligence

Humans love eye contacts. Don’t we? It is supposed to make one feel inclusive. It supposed to establish trust and empathy. For a healthy mind with sufficient social skills, eye contact is a form of familiarity. But not for a primitive brain which is constantly focusing on survival. For a primitive mind, eye contact is an invitation to challenge.

What can possibly train the mind to be on primitive mode without an occasion calling for it? You guessed right. It is video games.

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Most video games are designed in stressful circumstances where the player is always fighting to survive. Every game aims at transporting the player to this imaginary world. They succeed too. That’s why video game addicts are in constant state of mind which is ‘strategising to survive’. The goal is to protect the territory, gather more weapons, kill the others or take revenge with the next life. And the player never loses forever. The game always gives a chance to restart.  

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The normal rate of blood pressure isn’t enough to supply the required energy. The brain is always craving for high stimulation. The visual-motor areas of the brain are always amped up. Normal social situations like school or a family function are boring for them. It is not enough to stimulate their minds.

Turns out that children are not out of the woods even when they hit puberty. Video games can put their mind in a dangerous state which hinders emotional intelligence. A skill that is very important in developing relationships. Screen time is a factor in today’s social life and knowledge acquirement. But, the abuse of it is likely to drive your child over the edge.

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