With families requiring to self-isolate in coming weeks and months, we will have the task of providing interesting ways of occupying our children. Whilst there are many good sites on the internet, we need to be aware that too much reliance on these sources may come at a cost. A recently published study* investigated the effect of screen-based media use on the brains of young children.
It looked at the white matter tracts in the brains of pre-kindergarten children. These white matter tracts are found deeper in the brain, and consist of bundles of nerves coated with a substance called myelin which gives them a whitish hue. White matter has been described as the “neural information highway” . It is involved in a range of conditions and diseases . Previous studies have found that lower microstructural integrity in white matter is associated with cognitive decline. These studies have usually been done with older people, and have focused on conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia. White matter tracts have been shown to play vital roles in brain function, learning, and integrating information from large-scale networks in the brain.
This study with pre-kindergarten children found that more screen time was associated with lower integrity of white matter at a microscopic level. It has been known for some time that increased screen use in young people is associated with language delay; poor sleep; impaired executive functions (e.g. decision making and planning) and general cognition (e.g. memory and learning); and decreased parent-child engagement, including reading together. The study found that increasing screen time was associated with lower scores on language and literacy measures and that this was connected with physical changes in the brain. This is not to say that all screen use should be banned, but it does mean that we parents need to stick to Australian guidelines for screen use as much as possible. So the question ‘What will you be doing with your kids?’