Screen use could alter brain structure in preschool children, study suggests

A new study from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in JAMA Pediatrics showed evidence linking brain structure alteration in pre-K children with extended screen use.

Researchers looked at brain MRIs in 47 preschoolers, and found that those who used screens for longer than an hour showed differences in brain structure in areas related to language and literacy development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended limit for children five years and younger to be an hour.

"When your brain is developing quickly, in the first five years of age, kids brains are so plastic, they are absorbing all kinds of information, and this is a critical time in their lives where you want to have the best kind of environment for your brain," said Dr. Oscar Cornelio, with Avance Care in Durham.

He explained it was the white matter area of the brain that was impacted.

"This is how you learn language, basic concept, improve literacy, connect with the environment, or some basic skills that at this age you want to protect. And these basic skills were affected in kids who were using the screen time longer," Cornelio explained.

Cornelio advises parents to not simply cut screen time for their young children, but to replace that time with more productive activities.

"We should be using our kids' time in a better way. Exercising, interacting with them, music, reading a book. That can help significantly," Cornelio said.

It's a practice that Jennifer Parrish, a mother of two young children, follows.

"There is a phrase I have heard, it's a little potty talk, but it is they can swipe before they can wipe," said Parrish.
Parrish said she was not surprised by the study's findings, but added the difficulty some parents face in balancing screen-time.

"Kids see their friends doing it and they don't understand why they can't be on the iPad at all times," Parrish said.

Parrish noted she is getting ready to buy counting chips and flashcards for her children to use at restaurants, where screen use among young children has become more commonplace.

"Parenting is hard enough, raising kids is hard. So the parents that choose (to use screens more often), I'm not going to say anything against that, because it's a hard road to navigate. But personally, we choose to be low-tech," Parrish explained.

While the study found a correlation between more screen use and brain alteration, it did not prove causation.

Cornelio said he'd like to see the study replicated on a larger-scale, to learn more about the findings.
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