A generation ago, parents were concerned about the effects of watching television; Before that, it was radio. Now, the concern is exposure to screens, the amount of time children – especially adolescents and teens – interact with televisions, computers, smartphones, digital tablets, and video games.
This is an important age group, because the interaction with the screens grows drastically during adolescence and because brain development also develops at the same age; Neural networks are defined and united during the transition to adulthood.
The ABCD study is a $ 300 million project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to clarify how brain development is influenced by a number of factors, including the consumption of materials, bruises and time in front of the screens. A recent report that is part of the study reported that spending a lot of time using screens is associated with low scores on talent testing and the natural process of "cortical dilution" in some children. However, the data are preliminary and it is unclear whether the effects are long or even significant.
Does the addiction to the screens change the mind?
Yes, but the same thing happens with any other activity that children have and some of their relationships: sleep, homework, playing football, discussing, growing up in poverty, reading or steaming or smoking. The adolescent brain constantly changes, or "reconnects", in response to daily activity, and the adjustment continues until the first half of their 20s.
What scientists want to know is whether there is a time limit on the screens that causes measurable differences in adolescent brain structure or function, and if they are significant. Do they cause attention difficulties, mood problems or delays in reading or in their ability to solve problems?
Have such differences been found?
inconclusive. More than 100 reports and scientific analysis have examined the relationship between the use of screens and the welfare of young people in seeking emotional or behavioral differences, as well as changes in relationships related to aspects such as body image. In 2014, scientists from the University of Queens in Belfast reviewed 43 of these 100 studies; The ones they thought were better designed.
In a meta-analysis they conclude that social networks allow people to increase their circle of social connections in ways that can be positive and negative even when, for example, exposing young people to aggressive content. However, the authors' review concluded that "there is not enough solid causal research on the impact of social networks on the mental well-being of young people."
In summary, the results were varied and sometimes contradictory.
Psychologists have also tested whether playing violent violent games are related to aggressive behavior. More than 200 such studies have been performed; Some of them have links and in other cases do not. One of the challenges in this and other aspects of screen exposure is to identify causality: Do children who play many violent video games become more aggressive as a result, or are attracted to such content because they were more aggressive from the start?
Even if scientists have found solid evidence of measurable effects – for example, three hours a day on screens – were associated with an increased risk of ADHD, so a link does not necessarily mean that there is consistency in brain structure measurement.
Personal variation is a rule of brain development. The size of specific brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, the rate at which these regions unify their neural networks, the variations of these parameters between one person and another make it difficult to interpret certain findings. Scientists need to have a huge amount of research topics and a better understanding of the brain.
ABCD research, is not that just for it?
Yes, the longitudinal study expects to track 11,800 children through adolescence with annual MRI studies to see if changes in the brain are related to behavior or health. The study began in 2013 with twenty-one academic research centers; The initial focus was on the effects of drug and alcohol consumption in the adolescent brain. The project has been expanded and now includes additional topics, such as the effects of brain damage, screen exposure, genetics and a series of "diverse environmental factors."
The recently published article gives an early look at the expected results. A research team, located on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, analyzed brain tests of more than 4,500 adolescents and associated them with the amount of time children spend in front of the screens (the time reported by the children in questionnaires) and their scores on language and intellect tests.
The findings were varied. Some children said that they spent long before the screens showed cortical thinning at younger than expected ages; But this dilution is also part of the natural brain ripening, and scientists do not know what that means. Some children said they spent a lot of time in front of the screens scoring under the curve in the talent tests, while others performed well.
It is difficult to verify the accuracy of the amount of time in front of the monitors, as reported. In addition, the relationship between small differences in brain structure and human behavior is even more ambiguous. It is very difficult to come to clear conclusions and this is complicated by the fact that the use of brain scans is only temporary: within a year, some of the relationships observed can be reversed.
"The diversity of outcomes provides an important public health message: interaction with screens is not harmful to the brain alone or to brain-related function," the authors concluded.
In other words, the effects measured may be good or, more likely, not significant at all, until further investigations prove otherwise.
But is screen addiction harmless?
It is probably both bad and good for the brain, according to the individual habits and use of their screen. Many people who are socially isolated – whether as a result of abuse, personal eccentricities, or differences in development, such as Asperger's – build social networks through their screens, which they could not find on their own.
Separating the negative and positive consequences of the physical development of the brain will be very difficult given the many factors that may be at stake: the effects of marijuana, alcohol, electronic cigarettes, genetic differences, changes in the home or school, and all the emotional turmoil that comes with adolescence.
Most parents are already aware of the greatest disadvantage of time in front of screens: the extent to which they can displace other childhood experiences, including sleeping, climbing fences, playing outside or getting into trouble. Although many parents – perhaps the majority – certainly saw a few hours of television the day they were young. Perhaps your experiences may be more similar to what you think about your children.
Source: The New York Times