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The Impact of Screen Time on Neurological Development in Children

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Electronics are becoming ubiquitous in this day and age, so it is significant to recognize the effects that prolonged screen time has on newer generations. Screen time encompasses the amount of time spent on an electronic device, such as a computer, game console or mobile phone, but with children having access to such devices, their neurological development comes into question. Several studies have been performed to explore and clarify such neurological concerns.

Print Media vs. Screen Media

To understand the effects that electronics have on children’s neurological development, it is essential to recognize how print media affects children as well. Horowitz-Kraus and Hutton (2018) conducted a study that compares children’s brain connectivity during the hours spent reading books to the hours spent on screen media. The study determined that there is a positive correlation between reading and brain functionality in the visual word form area as well as in the cognitive control regions. On the other hand, when analyzing the results between brain connectivity and screen time, a negative correlation was identified between screen-based media and the visual word form area, cognitive control regions, and language regions. Moreover, Horrowitz-Kraus and Hutton conclude that reading is essential to a healthy brain development, where screen time negatively correlates with brain functionality. Similarly, Volk, Cotic, Zajc, and Starcic (2017) performed a study that compared the outcome of learning math through a traditional print medium to a tablet-based medium. The experimental group, or the students that used the tablet-based medium, performed better than the control group, those who used the traditional print medium, in all three tasks that they had to complete in the post-participation test. Although there was no significant difference in results from the first level, which tested students on basic knowledge, there was a significant difference in results from the second and third level (Volk et al., 2017). Therefore, tablet-based learning was more helpful to students when completing the second and third taxonomic levels in the post-participation test, or the procedural knowledge and problem-solving portion of the test, respectively (Volk et al., 2017). Horowitz-Kraus and Hutton’s study demonstrates that screen time negatively correlates with brain connectivity, yet Volk et al. (2017) and their study suggests that children learn material easier with an electronic device. Since Horowitz-Kraus and Hutton did not “subdivide screen time into specific components, such as watching television or playing video games, the inconsistency found when comparing the conclusion of both studies is likely due to this failure of creating categories of screen time.

Impact of Screen Time on Brain Activity in Children

A brain function that is significantly affected by electronics is the development of motor skills. Cadoret, Bigras, Lemay, Lehrer, and Lemire (2018) correctly hypothesized that there is a negative correlation between screen time and children’s motor scores. Their study shows that as children’s screen time increases, their motor scores decrease. Another hypothesis that was proven to be correct was that children with greater screen time at age four tend to increase their screen time as they age. This increase in screen time would negatively affect children’s motor skill development, which is significant to future learning. Horowitz-Kraus and Hutton’s study on brain connectivity also demonstrates a negative effect of screen time on children. The study’s results show that screen time is negatively correlated with brain connectivity from the visual word form area to other regions of the brain, such as the language and cognitive control regions (Horowitz-Kraus & Hutton, 2018). On the other hand, the connectivity of these brain regions is strengthened by reading, which would also strengthen their cognitive development. Cadoret et al. (2018) and Horrowitz-Kraus and Hutton (2018) highlight the negative impact that electronic devices have on children’s cognitive functions, such as motor skills and brain connectivity, which would be essential to their neurological development.

School Performance

Poulain, Peschel, Vogel, Jurkutat, and Kiess (2018) analyzed the effect of screen time on school performance. Their study demonstrates a negative correlation between screen time and school grades in the major subjects analyzed, mathematics and German. The researchers proposed several possible explanations for the negative correlation, such as that screen time leads to “attention deficits or negative attitudes toward school that, in turn, lead to poorer school achievement” (Poulain et al., 2018). This explanation can be supported by Lissak’s case study, which involved Mark, a nine-year-old boy that was diagnosed with ADHD. Through this eleven-week case study that significantly reduced Mark’s screen time, it was determined that Mark was no longer diagnosed with ADHD and prepared for school exams and homework without his parents’ help. A reduction in screen time caused him to eliminate his previously aggressive behavior and focus more on school. This outcome was achieved by focusing on reducing Mark’s violent video game time. Since Poulain, Peschel, Vogel, Jurkutat, and Kiess’s study “did not assess the purpose of the respective computer and/or internet usage” (Poulain et al., 2018), it is difficult to link screen time and electronic learning as the cause of poor school performance for the students assessed. Further research has to be conducted to determine whether screen time, in general, negatively affects children’s school performance and brain function, or if it is mainly “fast paced/ violent video game time” (Lissak, 2018) that is the lead cause of poor school performance due to screen time.


Research suggests that screen time has negative effects on children’s brain development, but this is difficult to conclude when several of these studies do not focus on analyzing the effect of different types of screen time, such as recreational and educational. Further research would have to be conducted to determine the negative impact that electronic devices, or just recreational screen time, would have on children’s neurological development. This topic would be essential to research since newer generations are using more forms of electronic learning in today’s society.

Annotated Bibliography

  • Cadoret, G., Bigras, N., Lemay, L., Lehrer, J., & Lemire, J. (2018). Relationship between screen-time and motor proficiency in children: a longitudinal study. Early Child Development and Care, 188(2), 231-239. doi: 10.1080/03004430.2016.1211123
  • Horowitz-Kraus, T. & Hutton, J.S. (2018). Brain connectivity in children is increased by the time they spend reading books and decreased by the length of exposure to screen-based media. Acta Paediatrica, 107(4), 685-693. doi: 10.1111/apa.14176
  • Lissak, G. (2018). Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case study. Environmental Research, 164, 149-157. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.015
  • Poulain, T., Peschel, T., Vogel, M., Jurkutat, A., & Kiess, W. (2018). Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of screen time and physical activity with school performance at different types of secondary school. BMC Public Health, 18(563), 1-10. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5489-3
  • Volk, M., Cotic, M., Zajc, M., & Starcic, A.I. (2017). Tablet-based cross-curricular maths vs. traditional maths classroom practice for higher-order learning outcomes. Computers & Education, 114, 1-23. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2017.06.004

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