Brain Power: How Screen Time Impacts Kids’ Brains
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Brain Power: How Screen Time Impacts Kids’ Brains

Excessive time on devices can impact developing brains in more ways than one.

Excessive time on devices can impact developing brains in more ways than one.

Research shows that our brains don’t fully develop until about the age of 25. While we continue to learn into adulthood, the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that helps control impulsive behavior—is not yet mature throughout our adolescence.

What’s happening in kids’ brains when they’re watching screens

That natural lack of impulse control combined with unlimited screen time can be the recipe for everything from limited creativity and attention span to issues with mental health. Excessive screen time can also take time away from other activities, like exercise and sleep, necessary for kids’ development.

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study showed that kids who spend more than two hours a day on screen time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests (kids who spent more than seven hours a day on screens showed a thinning of the brain’s cortex, which manages critical thinking and reasoning).

Most experts recommend two hours a day of screen time but distance learning has temporarily made that impossible for parents to enforce. Still, as we ease back into normal life, restoring realistic screen time rules outside of school are good for our kids’ health and well-being. Here’s how you can start to bring screen time limits back.

Balance good screen time with the bad.

Excessive gaming and social media can trigger the brain’s reward system in the same way a slot machine does. You get a dopamine hit with every “Like,” notification, and game point as you would every time you land on triple 7s. Instead, talk to your kids about the impact of Likes, turn off notifications, and help curate their time online. Circle’s Focus Time can help you choose apps and websites that your kids can and cannot watch at specific times of the day, helping to keep digital distractions at bay.

Set a digital curfew.

A restful night’s sleep is important for healthy brain development. Studies show that the blue light emitting from our screens can disrupt our sleep by curbing the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone. Without it, kids don’t get enough deep REM sleep, which can affect behavior and learning. Most experts recommend turning off devices one to two hours before bedtime and removing them from the bedroom overnight. Consistency is key to form healthy habits. Circle’s Bedtime feature snoozes devices at the same time every night

Get outdoors.

Being outside can improve your concentration, elevate your mood, and boost your overall health while excessive screen time can impact all three. More than half of teens (56%) admitted feeling at least one of three emotions—loneliness, being upset, or feeling anxious—when they didn’t have their phones and kids who spend more time in front of screens have shown to get less sleep and exercise. With spring here, now is the time to engage kids in walks, bike rides, all the things that make the great outdoors great for you.

Schedule family times.

Digital distraction is an issue for kids and parents. Schedule some digital-free times to be together as a family, especially during meal times when you can talk with kids about their day and relieve some of the stress and anxiety that can come from being a kid navigating life. Plus, as you model healthy screen time habits at home, your kids will likely start to follow suit.

Let minds wander.

One of the best parts of parenting is watching your kid develop their own passions. Help them engage in the things they love to do, like music, sports, or art, so they don’t resort to wasteful screen time. Four-in-ten teens (43%) said they often or sometimes use their phone to avoid interacting with people. Help your kids learn how to be present with others too. Sure, devices can be great for social interaction during a pandemic but nothing beats face-to-face interaction as kids’ brains are developing. And having that digital downtime can force them to observe the world around them, helping to spark imaginations and strengthen their creativity muscle.

Want to set new screen time limits for a new season? Check out Circle’s award-winning parental controls.

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