Avoid media time – including TV, computer, phone or other electronic devices – for toddlers and infants under age two and limit it to under two hours/day for children and teens is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like raising a child in today’s media world. In fact, I was talking with my youngest daughter (age 24) the other day, and she said SHE was glad there was no Facebook when she was a teen – especially during middle school – because of the immediacy of the angst producing thoughts and feelings FB offers (someone doesn’t “like” a status update or you’re not invited to a party or someone makes a snarky comment about your appearance in a tagged photo) at a time when those thoughts and feelings are naturally rampant.
But of equal concern with media time is its impact on brain development. As you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, it’s that brain piece that’s of particular concern for whatever activity one repeatedly does, the brain works to embed maps (neural network connections) around those activities.
Media Time and the Developing Brain
I shared the following in my March 9, 2010 article, “The Brain and the First Three Years of Life.”
We are born with approximately 100 billion brain cells but only a fraction are “wired.” It takes neurons (brain cells) talking to neurons — or “wiring” — for us to do whatever it is we do. Dr. Norman Doidge uses the phrase, “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself. This “firing together, wiring together” causes the brain to form “brain maps” for everything we think, do, feel or say. For example, the act of my typing this blog post involves my fingers, my eyes, my mind recalling research, my body and its posture — all working seamlessly together in a manner I don’t even think about. It just happens; happens thanks to neural networks wiring together because they fired together to form the brain map for how I “write.”
Now, read this quote that I received in a newsletter from SAMHSA informing readers that National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is on May 6, 2010.
“Research has found that core brain development, 85 percent of which occurs in the first three years of life, shows differences in brain structures and function based on the child’s experiences in relationships with others and with their social context.” Shonkoff, J. & Phillips, D. A. (Eds.). (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods. Washington, DC: National Academy of Science
Further – according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Overview of Early Brain and Child Development” – “Recent scientific advances are driving a paradigm shift in the understanding of how child development impacts human health and disease across the lifespan. Early social and environmental experiences (the ecology) and the genetic predispositions (the biology) influence the development of adaptive behaviors, learning capacities, lifelong physical and mental health, and future economic productivity.” Continue reading this piece…
The concern about media time makes sense when taken in context of the above. For although we are born with approximately 100 billion brain cells, at birth about all we can do is sleep, eat, poop and urinate, cry and breath. If our neurons were all wired at birth, we’d come out running, laughing, reading, talking and doing calculus. Because the brain continues to form brain maps and input gets more advanced and complicated (think school, sports, music, relationships…), in the first decade of life, trillions of neural networks are formed. So here is where media time enters the picture, and for that, we turn to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
American Academy of Pediatrics on Media Time for Children
“Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should monitor their media diet. Parents can make use of established ratings systems for shows, movies and games to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use,” AAP. Please find the following helpful resource links:
Helping Kids Be Safe Online – Safety Net
Bottom line… long before the age at which we start to have a memory of our lives, our neural networks are being formed in response to what is going on around us. And that “what is going on around us” – including media time – has a profound impact on how our neural networks wire.