More Than An Hour of Daily 'Screen Time' Can Be Harmful to Children.

New scans show how screen time affects children’s brains compared to reading

Screen time can have an adverse effect on children’s brains, studies have shown, and new scans are showing just how harmful it can be.

Recent studies from the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center of Cincinnati's Children's Hospital reveal that the way children’s brains develop can vary significantly if they have more screen time compared to reading books.

» RELATED: Study links too much screen time to changes in young kids’ brains

An image of a reading child’s brain implies more organization within the white matter of the brain, as shown by the red portion of the photo. 

Brain scans show how reading positively affects children's brains. Image courtesy of Dr. John S. Hutton of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

Meanwhile, an image of a child’s brain absorbing material from in front of a screen shows disorganization, in blue. 

Brain scan shows how screen time negatively affects children's brains. Image courtesy of Dr. John S. Hutton of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Photo: Dr. John S. Hutton of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

“The implication is that more reading at home benefits brain structure/development and to a degree may help offset negative effects of screen time (or vice-versa, screen time may interfere/offset benefits of reading),” Dr. John S. Hutton, director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital said in an email. “However, as the relationships with screen time are more extensive, this suggests that other constructive experiences such as creative play, interactions with caregivers, sleep, playing outside, may be displaced by screens.

“This is not brain damage per se, but suggests less development in kids with more screen time,” he added. “These relationships also applied for cognitive testing in terms of language, literacy and executive function (higher for reading were for screens).”

» RELATED: It’s in a book: 5 best ways to help your early reader

The images were taken using diffusion tensor imaging, a special kind of MRI, CNN reported. The MRI took the screen time image with the blue from a JAMA study in November and the reading image with the red from a study published in the journal Acta Paediatrica this month, Hutton told the AJC. 

The AJC previously reported the study involved 47 healthy pre-school-aged children and took MRI scans of the white matter in their brain. Children who spent more time in front of screens had lessened literacy skills and were less able to use expressive language or name objects fast.

CNN reports that on the other hand, children who read had higher scores on cognitive tests.

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