Why Excess Screen Time Damages Your Child's Brain

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Nature is an environment that often demands awareness and being in the moment. We must be aware of dangers such as wild animals, the weather, obstacles, our location, etc.… In other words, we have to be on the lookout for new occurrences or novelty. When in this state of awareness, we are cognizant and focused on our surroundings.

Human evolution was largely driven by the fact that our ancestors spent large amounts of their time outside. Being aware of new occurrences was necessary for survival and we still operate on many of those same genes that allowed our ancestors to thrive outside. Our brains adapted and evolved to be efficient novelty-seekers.

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Fast forward to today, and being outside has been replaced with being on screens for most people. We bathe in information for hours on end. We love the miniature rush of dopamine associated with beating a Candy Crush level, receiving a social media notification, and cycling through apps and finding new information to devour. We get hooked on these spurts of dopamine and have a difficult time staying away from our phones. How silly would our ancestors think we look with these strange devices constantly in our faces?


is the brains ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. It allows neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in the environment. Essentially, the brain rewires itself and adapts to its environments and circumstances.

Our brains are responding by making this hyper-driven state the new norm and this manifests itself behaviorally in people of all ages. We attempt to multitask. We read the news while eating, play on our phones while watching TV, and play games while we should be sleeping. A priority is placed on short bursts of communication instead of sentences and paragraphs.

Multitasking Myth

On some level, we can multitask, like cooking and listening to music. But overall, copious amounts of research indicate that multitasking simply doesn’t work well. For example, some studies have suggested that just by changing the radio station while driving we increase our odds of an accident nine times. Every time we switch tasks, a quick stop and start process occurs in our brains, which when repeated can impact our memory, prevent states of flow, inhibit creativity, and even drain our energy levels.

Consequently, research suggests our attention spans are decreasing. Technology surrounds us with omnipresent slot machines full of red buttons just begging us to take a hit of new information and receive that instant gratification. Tech companies know how to get us hooked and make their billions by creating addicting apps and gadgets. An image comes to mind of a monkey staring at a big red button and clicking it every time it lights up to receive a banana.

Various studies have confirmed that ADHD is associated with the overuse of electronic media and that the severity of ADHD is correlated with the amount of use. Gadgets like smartphones and iPads are causing our brains to rewire themselves to be less focused, even when we aren’t around them.

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So, what can you do? Parents can start with modeling proper smartphone etiquette. Studies suggest that parent screen time is the strongest predictor of child screen time. Some other useful tips:

  • Create a phone jail in your house to be used at specific times (e.g. meal times, weekends, while doing homework).
  • Take a walk outside without your phone.
  • Don’t attempt to multitask. Work when you’re working and play when you’re playing, and don’t mix them together.
  • Use Screentime and other apps to monitor and limit screentime.
  • Promote screen-free activities, preferrably outdoors.
  • Have your whole family go on a phone detox for a day.

We’ve all seen those families who are eating together at a restaurant, but they’re paying more attention to their phones than to each other. The bottom line is that life is too short to spend it staring at screens, clicking red buttons for bananas, and training our brains to be unfocused.

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