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Screentime and Your Child’s Brain

screen time limits


If you are a parent of a tween or teen, it’s likely you have concerns about how much your child is on his/her phone or gaming system.

It seems these days their phones are a permanent fixture in their hands as they constantly stare at their screens while interacting on various social media outlets and playing video games.

Parents of tweens and teens are beside themselves not knowing how to control what studies now show are addictive and destructive to their health.

It’s a growing epidemic that has birthed a new “I-Gen” generation of children born after 1995, who have spent their entire adolescence with a smart phone. And researchers are scrambling to figure out the complexities and consequences of it all. There is data confirming the rise in mental health issues such as depression, loneliness, and self-injuring behaviors that have a strong correlation to the growing popularity of smartphones and social media.

In short, “Teenagers now spend on average four and a half hours a day on their phones. All that time has resulted in a fundamental shift in how a generation of American kids act and think.”

What is equally concerning is how the constant use of their devices affects our kids’ brains and cognitive functioning. Recently a new massive study was launched by the federal government’s National Institute for Health, that will offer us parents some more insight into the consequences of our kids’ phone use and not only the mental health effects of it all, but the physiological impact it has on their brains.

Sixty Minutes recently reported that this new groundbreaking research project was launched to ultimately bring more detailed information on the emotional and mental health effects of extended amounts of screen time, as well as the physiological changes that take place in our kids’ brains too.

However, there were some insights that could already be gleaned from the first year of testing.

The federal government, through the National Institutes of Health, has launched the most ambitious study of adolescent brain development ever attempted. In part, scientists are trying to understand what no one currently does: how all that screen time impacts the physical structure of your kids’ brains, as well as their emotional development and mental health.

At 21 sites across the country, scientists have begun interviewing nine and ten-year-olds and scanning their brains. They’ll follow more than 11,000 kids for a decade, and spend $300 million doing it.

The first wave of scans of these kids’ brains has already revealed fascinating results.

They showed a noticeable change in the brain’s composition that appears to be a “premature thinning of the cortex. That’s the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses.” To which Dr. Gaya Dowling described as “…(a) maturational process. So what we would expect to see later is happening a little bit earlier.” They aren’t yet sure of the specific correlation between screen us and brain changes, but future data compiled over the years through brain scans will give us a more definitive answer.

They also discovered that as well as the other developmental effects all this screen time is having on our kids, “the interviews and data from the NIH study have already revealed something else: kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens got lower scores on thinking and language tests.”

The NIH study is also investigating “teenager’s brains as they follow Instagram, the most popular social media app.” Dr. Bagot is among scientists who believe screen time stimulates the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which has a pivotal role in cravings and desire. This would correlate to addictive behavior. Continued data collection will surely be an important piece to clarifying and defining iPhone addiction.

It seems we may not have a complete report on screen time use affecting our kids for years to come, but the initial results are unsettling at best and lead us to once again address the question of “How much screen time is too much?”

From this particular research, we could safely assume our kids should not have more than two hours of screen time a day. And how on earth will we be able to control that? Well, luckily, as the age of technology continues to bloom, parents can benefit from new apps that can help us set limits on our kids’ phone use. We can’t be supervising our tweens and teens 24/7, so these apps can manage their screen time for us.

No app should take the place of parental involvement, so we need to be vigilant in having ongoing discussions with our kids about their phone use and social media activity. It’s up to us, their parents to tune into our kids’ behavioral, emotional, and physical health and intervene when we notice any concerning changes.

The digital age has great benefits and our iPhones are an incredible asset in both the parent and teen’s life, but much like anything, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. This news is pointing more and more toward evidence of just that.

*All quotes and information were referenced from the recently published article on Sixty Minutes.

Here are some of the parental control apps that we have tested and approve!

This video explains how Disney Circle works.

This program will control wifi in the house for all devices if desired, including xbox, playstation and nintendo (and any other device that uses wifi). Add Circle Go and it also controls everything that uses cellular data. (this is one of the better videos I found, but there are quite a few)

Purchase here.

This video explains how to use iPhone’s built-in Screen Time function to stay on top of your own screen time as well as your kids.

This video shows how Netsanity Works


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