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How Does Screen Time Affect Our Children’s Brains?

Andromeda Peters, LICSW

Children are currently growing up in a world dominated by technology. This manifests in increased screen time in areas of their socialization, entertainment, and education. Keeping in mind that children’s brains are still developing, are there any implications for screen time and the cognitive functioning of our children? It is reported that in the United States, over half of the children under the age of eight own tablets. What’s more, a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) indicates that children who spend more than two hours a day on screen time scored lower on language and thinking tests than their peers with less screen time. 

How Does Screen Time Impact Young Children?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping children under age two off of screens unless they are video chatting with family. It is also recommended that screen use should be limited for children, ages two to five, to one hour a day of educational content. With that, engagement is crucial for the developing brains of our children, which is why it is also recommended that caregivers and educated adults watch the content with children to engage in healthy dialogue around learned materials. This is because the frontal cortex is still developing in young children, which is why social engagement is key for a healthy brain. That said, if the discussion can be prioritized in the midst of device use, learning occurs. As this occurs, new neural pathways can continue to form in our children’s brains. On the other hand, when learning suffices, there is empty space, which can have detrimental effects on our children’s growth. 

How Does Screen Time Impact Adolescents?

Experts recommend monitoring screen time at every stage of childhood, including our adolescents. Pediatrician Michael Rich reminds readers that too much time online can negatively impact one’s sleep, due to the blue light from devices. The rays emitted also affect how we process memory, which can affect our children’s ability to recall curriculum. Excessive time online also opens children up to the world of online gaming and social media, which are arenas for instant gratification. Dr. Rich shares that during child development, one’s ability to maintain self-control is still forming so staying involved in our children’s online activities is best to prevent obsessive behaviors that may arise as a result of this.

Why Is Regulating Screen Time With Children Important?

Screen Time, if utilized by our children without limits and boundaries, may cause them to face challenges in their emotional well-being, cognitive functioning, language, and sleep. Human beings, like many other species, learn a lot through observation and human interaction to build social skills, emotional maturity, and empathy. Children learn through reading facial expressions, non-verbal cues, and physical contact, according to Sanchari Sinha Dutta, Ph.D. Dr. Dutta states that being involved in social planning for our children can leave room for balance through scheduled play dates, extra-curricular activities such as creative arts or sports, planned mealtimes, family time, and more is beneficial for the healthy growth of our children. Dutta recommends ceasing screen use during these time periods.

Finding Balance Is Key

Just as important as it is for us as parents and educators to limit screen use, it is also important to educate our youth on the importance of healthy balance, which we can do through dialogue and modeling behavior. Technology is here to stay, and we continue to rely on its use as adults from GPS, cell phones, grocery and food delivery apps, online shopping, computers for work, social media, reading, movies/shows, and even appointments with our medical professionals, parent/teacher conferences, and more. We can find balance in prioritizing face-to-face interactions with loved ones, adequate exercise, media-free areas of our homes, screen time curfews, time outdoors, and giving ourselves limits in how many hours we spend on our devices, as well as cutting ourselves off a few hours before bedtime. Remember that the healthier behavior we can model, the more we are normalizing healthy lifestyles for our children.

If you or your child are struggling to find a balance with screen time, talking to a licensed counselor can help. Explore our counseling services online to learn more about individual and family therapy, and contact Symmetry Counseling to get started with therapy in Chicago


Screen Time and the Brain. Retrieved from on June 19, 2019. 

What Does Too Much Screen Time Do To Children’s Brains?  Retrieved from,experienced%20thinning%20of%20the%20brain’s on 2022. 

Does Screen Time Affect Children’s Development? Retrieved from on April 14, 2020.

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