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Limiting Kids’ Screen Time May Prevent Brain Damage, Studies Show

By HERWriter
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Limiting Kids’ Screen Time May Prevent Brain Damage, Say Studies William Iven/Unsplash

Most of us would never allow our child to hop on a bicycle without a helmet or ride in a car without a seat belt. As safety-conscious as most parents are, many of us are subjecting our children to cognitive impairment by allowing too much TV, Internet and gaming.

Even when conscientious parents moderate their children’s screen time with regular exercise, outdoor play and library trips, their children may be spending enough time on phones, iPads and game systems to damage their brains.

According to research reported by Psychology Today, excessive screen time has been shown to impair brain function.

- Gray matter atrophy

- Reduced cortical thickness

- Impaired cognitive functioning

- Cravings and impaired dopamine function

In the 21st century, our role as parents includes imposing and enforcing limits on electronics to protect our children's developing brains. Screens are ubiquitous in everyday life and it's difficult and time-consuming to police our children's activities.

The following are some guidelines to get you started.

1) Corral the offenders

Keep all phone chargers in a common room, such as the kitchen. Have a “lights out” time for electronics, when all phones, laptops, etc. must be at the charging station. No electronics allowed in bedrooms at night. Period.

2) Use existing parental controls

On the laptops, go to Settings>Parental Controls and institute limits on Internet access and gaming. You can also block certain programs. Most cell phone carriers have an online page where you can set limits on your children's phone usage.

3) Offer alternatives

Implement enjoyable activities at home to entice kids away from screens. Dust off the board games. Make weekly trips to the library. Play soccer in the yard after dinner every night. Plan family hikes on Saturdays.

4) Provide consequences

When your subjects revolt — as they certainly will — be prepared to impose consequences. If limits aren’t respected, cancel phone service, remove the gaming system, or change the Wi-Fi and Netflix passwords. Going cold turkey for a week might make kids and teens more likely to follow your screen-time rules in the future.

5) Set the example

This means we, ourselves, have to unplug and interact with our children. Kids are expert hypocrisy detectors, and they aren’t going to reduce their screen time if we don’t reduce ours.

How much time is too much?

According to the National Institutes of Health, a child under 2 years of age should never be put in front of a screen. So-called “educational videos” created for infants and toddlers do not improve their development and the screen time may be potentially harmful.

Children over 2 years old and teens should limit their screen time to one to two hours per day. This means setting timers on games, leaving the cell phone alone, and turning off the television after a favorite show.

And road trips? Yes, they count. Occupy kids with coloring books, sketch pads and play dough, instead of iPads and movies.

Much of the damage inflicted by screen time occurs in the frontal lobe, an area of the brain that continues to develop well into our twenties. So let’s invest in screen-free family activities, and give the brains in our care their best shot at health.


Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain. psychologytoday.com. Retrieved August 10, 2015.

Screen time and children. NIH.gov. Retrieved August 10, 2015.

Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy. NIH.gov.
Retrieved August 10, 2015.

Reviewed August 11, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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