The Impact of Screen Media on Children

Is Screen Media Detrimental to the Brain?

MediaWhile screen media may offer some benefits when it is used sensibly, it can be quite detrimental to a developing brain.[1] In her article, “The Impact of Screen Media on Children, ” Coordinator of Pediatric Mental Health and Environment at the University of California, San Francisco, Mary Burke, M.D. states that the negative effects of screen media have been seen on functional MRI (fMRI) and on the youth’s behavior and function.1 In fact, fMRI studies completed during and after screen media exposure showed that there were pronounced activation patterns.1 While viewing non-violent television programs activated the brain regions that are associated with visual and auditory processing, viewing violent programs activated brain regions that are associated with negative affect.[2]

Screen Media and Social Changes

While it is difficult for researchers to link screen media to social changes, such as increases in violence, small population studies of isolated cultures have reported an increase in youth aggression after the introduction of screen media.2 In fact, screen media is associated with short-term aggression, especially in boys.1 Also, early and excessive television use among youth has been found to link to antisocial behavior later in life.[3]    Other studies, according to Burke, have linked screen media to impulsive behavior, obesity, and delayed development of language and reading skills.[4],[5],[6] Screen media has also been associated with attention problems.[7]

How Screen Media Can Impact Developing Brains

During the first five years of a child’s life, the neurological foundations of learning and emotional regulation are being set; therefore, screen media can be extremely detrimental during this stage.1 For babies, television interrupts play, takes time away from being with family members, and interferes with sleep.[8] It has been found that Sesame Street and Teletubbies actually have a negative impact on their vocabulary.8 According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than two years should have no screen use.[9] However, the average American baby is exposed to two hours of screen media daily.[10] Forty percent of infants three months of age are exposed to screen media, and the percentage rises to 90 percent by the time the child is two.[11] According to Burke, one study showed that screen media increased the risk of a child receiving a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder by age seven, and the risk increases with each hour of television watched between ages one and three.[12] For children between ages five and 10, screen media produces abnormal sensory input into the brain’s activating system; therefore, heavy exposure puts the child at risk for having an altered sensitivity to environmental stress.[13]

[1] Burke, M.G. (2010, Oct. 18). The Impact of Screen Media on Children: An Environmental Health Perspective. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/child-adolescent-psych/content/article/10168/1696463.

[2] Murray JP, Liotti M, Ingmundson PT, et al. Children’s brain activations while viewing televised violence revealed by fMRI. Media Psychol. 2006;8:25-27.

[3] Browne KD, Hamilton-Giachritsis C. The influence of violent media on children and adolescents: a public-health approach. Lancet. 2005;365:702-710.

[4] Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, DiGiuseppe DL, McCarty CA. Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics. 2004;113:708-713.

[5] Robinson TN. Reducing children’s television viewing to prevent obesity: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1999;282:1561-1567.

[6] Christakis DA, Gilkerson J, Richards JA, et al. Audible television and decreased adult words, infant vocalizations, and conversational turns: a population-based study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163:554-558.

[7] Swing EL, Gentile DA, Anderson CA, Walsh DA. Television and video game exposure and the development of attention problems. Pediatrics. 2010;126:214-221.

[8] National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. Zero to Three: What the Research Tells Us About the Impact of TV/Video Viewing on Children Under Three. http://main.zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/media_research_doc_5-24.pdf?docID=281.

[9] American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education. American Academy of Pediatrics: children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics. 2001;107:423-426.

[10] Rideout VJ, Vandewater EA, Wartella EA. Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers. 2003. http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/Zero-to-Six-Electronic-Media-in-the-Lives-of-Infants-Toddlers-and-Preschoolers-PDF.pdf.

[11] Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA, Meltzoff AN. Television and DVD/video viewing in children younger than 2 years. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:473-479.

[12] Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, DiGiuseppe DL, McCarty CA. Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics. 2004;113:708-713.

[13] Valkenburg PM, van der Voort TH. Influence of TV on daydreaming and creative imagination: a review of research. Psychol Bull. 1994;116:316-339. media.

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