Not long ago, in 21 research centres in the United States, the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) began examining the brains of 4,500 children aged 9 and 10 — eventually, the study will cover 11,000 children, followed for several years — to see if intense video game consumption and time spent on the Internet have an influence on their development.
The first results of this study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) show “different patterns” in the brains of children using smartphones, tablets and video games more than 7 hours a day. The images show a premature thinning of the cortex, the brain bark that processes information sent to the brain by the five senses.
Thinning of the cortex
The shrinking of the cortex “is considered as an aging process,” the scientists explain, pointing out that it is not certain that this process is harmful. “We don’t know if it’s caused by the time spent in front of the screens. We don’t know yet if this is a bad thing. ”However, the study shows that children who spend two or more hours a day in front of a screen score lower on memory and language tests.
Another phenomenon denounced is the addictive effect that the smartphone can have. To reach this conclusion, the team scanned the brains of teenagers as they looked at their Instagram thread. It turns out that the time spent in front of a screen stimulates the release of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Enough to make our children literally addicted to screens.
Impoverished cognitive development
Only half (51%) of children get enough sleep, 37% spend less than two hours on screens and only 18% participate in one hour of physical activity per day, according to family questionnaires. After cognitive tests on language, memory, reactivity, concentration, etc., the study found a very clear link between time spent on screens, sleep and children’s performance.
Of the three criteria (sleep, screen and physical activity), time spent sleeping and exposure to screens are most directly related to children’s intellectual abilities, while physical activity alone had no impact on cognitive ability, while being the most important factor for a child’s good physical health.
Do not prohibit but accompany the use of screens
Children can be educated on screens from an early age as long as they are not exposed to passive exposure, such as leaving them alone in front of the television, without explaining and discussing with them the images they receive.
Later on, we must help children to clearly distinguish the virtual from the real, to acquire the distance necessary to become capable of self-regulation. As for video games in general, while they can lead to excesses that are sometimes pathological, they also improve visual attention skills, flexibility and rapid decision-making.