PART 1 : Screen and Brain : A sobering link.

A new study using sophisticated brain scans has found an association between screen use and the development of young children's brains, especially in areas related to language development, reinforcing the importance of minimizing screen time for preschoolers.

Full disclosure : I know some of the authors of the research, which was published last week in JAMA Pediatrics. The lead author is Dr. John S. Hutton, the director of the Reading and Literacy Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

I wrote about some of his research a few years ago, when he looked at how young children's brains react to hearing stories, and I have even collaborated with him in writing about children and reading, one of my favorite topics [the world of pediatricians obsessed with picture books in small and closely, well, networked].

I am the national medical director of Reach Out and Read, an organization that works to encourage parents to read aloud with young children, and this month we celebrated our 30th anniversary in Boston.

With that in mind, I'm especially interested in this study and how young children's brains are shaped bu the environment in which they grow.

Of course, this is a study of screen time, not reading, but there is a connection.

The researchers did special brain scans, diffusion tensor M.R.I.s, which assess the integrity of the  white matter in the brain, on 47 healthy children aged 3 to 5. All were from English-speaking households that were mostly middle to upper-middle class.

Parents were asked about their children's screen use, which the researchers charted against a composite store called a ScreenQ. Developed and validated over the past couple of years, that followed current guidelines on screen time from from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which are based on the best evidence we have to date.

A score of zero meant perfect adherence to those guidelines, so children start watching TV or using apps until they were over 18 months old; were not exposed to violent content; didn't have screens in their bedrooms; co-viewed with parents; and total screen time was only an hour a day of high-quality programming.

A score of 26 meant complete nonadherence : a child started watching under a year old; had screens in the bedroom; watched violent content; had a much higher screen total screen time; did not co-view, and so on].

Then the researchers, compared the children's ScreenQs with their brain scans, which showed the degree of myelination of the neurons, the coating of the connections between nerve cells with a fatty substance - myelin- which is what makes white matter white.

It insulates the nerve cells and increases the efficiency of signalling.

''The more these areas are encouraged to talk to one another, whether language areas or executive function, the more that coating of the wires is stimulated,'' Dr. Hutton said. ''The amount of muelin around a nerve fiber is directly related to how often it's stimulated, how often it's used.''

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on Children and Screen time, continues to Part 2.. The World Students Society thanks author Perri Klass, M.D.


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