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Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, For Better And Worse

23 November 2016

From National Public Radio:

There’s new evidence that excessive screen time early in life can change the circuits in a growing brain.

Scientists disagree, though, about whether those changes are helpful, or just cause problems. Both views emerged during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this week.

The debate centered on a study of young mice exposed to six hours daily of a sound and light show reminiscent of a video game. The mice showed “dramatic changes everywhere in the brain,” said Jan-Marino Ramirez, director of the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“Many of those changes suggest that you have a brain that is wired up at a much more baseline excited level,” Ramirez reported. “You need much more sensory stimulation to get [the brain’s] attention.”

So is that a problem?

On the plus side, it meant that these mice were able to stay calm in an environment that would have stressed out a typical mouse, Ramirez explained. But it also meant they acted like they had an attention deficit disorder, showed signs of learning problems, and were prone to risky behavior.

. . . .

The debate came just weeks after the American Academy of Pediatrics relaxed its longstanding rule against any screen time for kids under two. And it reflected an evolution in our understanding of how sensory stimulation affects developing brains.

Researchers learned many decades ago that young brains need a lot of stimulation to develop normally. So, for a long time parents were encouraged to give kids as many sensory experiences as possible.

“The idea was, basically, the more you are exposed to sensory stimulation, the better you are cognitively,” Ramirez said.

Then studies began to suggest that children who spent too much time watching TV or playing video games were more likely to develop ADHD.

Link to the rest at NPR

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5 Comments to “Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, For Better And Worse”

  1. There’s a ‘slight’ difference between playing a game / watching TV and reading. And reading’s basically reading, whether it’s on a piece of paper or a screen.

  2. These kids will grow up having to manage what we never dreamed of: a flashing digital world clamoring for their attention.

    Unless the world (unlikely) changes its way of delivering ‘information,’ they will have to sort through so much stuff it isn’t even conceivable for us older folk.

    Maybe the ones who survive will be the ones who can handle it. Selected in our own Hunger Games.

    It is arrogant to think the limits have been reached.

    They also have to learn to spend time one-on-one, and unplugged – and will have to figure out a balance between body and mind.

    I wish I had the chance to try; I don’t know if I’d survive.

  3. The fact that many Silicon Valley executives send their own kids to Montessori or Steiner schools or whatever where they generally have a very limited access to screens (or none at all) tells us the answer to the “for better or for worse?” question.

  4. Doesn’t every experience in life “rewire” the brain?

    As for those Silicon Valley tech giants…yesterday I happened across a discussion of their abysmal failures when they try to apply their brilliance to other endeavors, such as renewable energy. Just an observation on their “better or worse” choice for schools.

    Dan

    • Right, I’m not sure that the kind of school the tech giants send their kids to reflects anything other than their social class.

      Montessori schools and the like tend to be popular among “the totebag set,” which is the tongue-in-cheek name some visitors of a blog at the WSJ gave to their socio-economic demographic. The commenters didn’t take themselves too seriously. They started their own blog, with the tagline “Holier-than-thou since 2013” or whatever the year was.

      Totebag set: upper middle class professionals, especially ones living in coastal cities. They may engage in competitive parenting, even out-Tigering the Tiger Moms. “My daughter Taylor took first in her squash tournament at Snooty-Snoot Prep School. I personally puree Schuyler’s organic, locally sourced carrots to make his baby food. I just don’t trust Gerber!”

      “Totebag” parents care a lot about screen time and such — they don’t necessarily know if screen time is dangerous, it’s just they have a vague idea that it’s Bad so they try and limit it. I got the impression the bloggers were amused at their own demographic, and the kinds of mass hysteria their demographic falls prey to.

      I do not have a position on “screen time” either way; I just don’t believe Silicon Valley tech giants have any particular insight on this that’s better than anyone else’s.

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