Screen Time vs. Reading: How They Affect Your Child’s Brain

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation looked at differences in brain activity comparing the times children spent on screens (TV, smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers) versus reading a book.

“Needs and Desires” worksheet – life skills

They used MRI scanning to look at the functional brain connectivity patterns between the two activities. They found that brain connectivity is increased by the time children spend reading and decreased by the length of exposure to screen-based media. Their bottom line conclusion was that the findings of the study “underscore the importance of children reading to support healthy brain development and literacy and limiting screen time. [ACTA Paediatrica, December 2017].

These findings support the importance of setting limits on screen time expressed by such organizations as the American Pediatric Association and the American Psychological Association.  Some children spend as much as five to eight hours devoted to screentime. While making digital media available to children, parents should also provide interesting reading material as well. Furthermore, parents are encouraged to spend time reading with their children as well as discussing what they read together. Parents should also work with their children to set up goals for reading time and track them and reward them with praise for their accomplishments.

Simply limiting a child’s time spent on an activity does not always lead to engaging in activities that stimulate the brain, promote development, academic achievement and creativity.  Parent’s need to provide alternatives and encourage participation. Reducing screen time without promoting positive alternatives most likely result in children saying they are bored and there is nothing fun to do.  Kids need time with their parents to grow and develop intellectually, physically and socially. Excessive screen times erode the time available for fun, positive, and enriching parent/child interactions.

The key to reducing screen time is to work on a balance of activity for children and parents.  In addition to increasing time spent reading and discussing what is read, physical activity, creative play and family fun time should be in the mix.  Time spent discussing the day among all members of the family is also important to encourage connectivity. In The Well-balanced Family, I discuss these alternatives and more as well as provide suggestions and tools you can use to begin moving toward a balance of activities for all family members that will strengthen family ties, reduce conflicts in the home as well as reduce stress and improve psychological and physical health for all family members.

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