National Institutes of Health has conducted a $300 million study whose aim is to find how the screen time is affecting the developing brains of the young kids. The study is making use of the MRI scans for determining the changes that are taking place in the brain structure of children that make use of smartphones and other devices with a screen.
The first batch of the results from the study are in and show that kids who are spending more than two hours on a daily basis on screens scored lower on thinking and language tests. Furthermore, kids that spend over seven hours on electronic devices have demonstrated a premature thinning of the cortex – a process that is described by Dr Gaya Dowling of the National Institute of Health as a ‘maturational process’ and happens later in the development.
Dowling said, ‘We don’t know if it’s being caused by the screen time. We don’t know yet if it’s a bad thing. It won’t be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we’re seeing in this single snapshot.’ However, it will be a few more years until something can be said for sure. Dr Dimitri Christakis of Seattle Children’s Hospital and the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent guidelines for screen time, has said, ‘In many ways, the concern that investigators, like I have, is that we’re sort of in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children.’
As of now, American teenagers are spending over four and a half hours on their phones on a daily basis. This doesn’t take into account the time that they spend on their computers, playing games, or watching TV. According to a survey from The Pew Research Center, 54% of US teens said that they spend too much using their phones. 60% of them considered their online time to be a major problem. The data backs this study as teenagers of today have lower counts of drinking, sex, and drug use but still have higher levels of loneliness and depression.
Tristan Harris is a former Google manager who says, “… there’s a narrative that, oh, I guess they’re just doing this like we used to gossip on the phone, but what this misses is that your telephone in the 1970s didn’t have a thousand engineers on the other side of the telephone who were redesigning it to work with other telephones and then updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive.’
In the end, while the effects of screen time are unclear and will probably take another couple of decades before becoming proven; it is best not to be on any extremes. You should not completely shut out the smartphone, and you must not become a phone addict. Use it when you must but please make sure that you take a balanced approach towards it. As for the young kids and their screen time; keep it minimal and under check.