Use of screens and neurodevelopment

The growing presence of electronic devices in the daily lives of children is becoming more and more notable. This fact is highlighted in a study carried out by the Gasol Foundation, which recently revealed that children between the ages of 8 and 16 spend on average almost five hours a day in front of a screen [ref]. This raises the question of what the implications may be for the development of their cognitive and emotional abilities.

Numerous epidemiological investigations carried out in various parts of the world have shed light on the relationship between excessive time spent on screens and the detrimental effects that this can have on the physical and cognitive health and behavior of children. For example, a Canadian longitudinal cohort study (very similar to BiSC ), which included 2,441 mothers and their children, followed their participants from the prenatal period to age 5 years [ref]. At 24, 36 and 60 months of age, screen exposure times were recorded, and mothers completed the Ages and Stages questionnaire, similar to those we use at BiSC to assess neurodevelopment in five areas: communication, motor skills gross, fine motor skills, problem solving, and personal and social skills. The results of this analysis indicate that greater exposure to screens at 24 and 36 months of age is related to lower scores on neurodevelopmental tests. It is important to note that an inverse relationship was not found, that is, it was not observed that those children who had lower development spent more time in front of screens.

Although certain benefits have been identified in high-quality interactive programs, these advantages have only been proven in children over 2 years of age. Before reaching this age, children lack the development of the nervous system necessary to effectively understand the virtual representation presented by screens, which prevents them from giving meaning to the content displayed.

Younger children learn optimally through movement and tactile interaction, so it is essential to provide them with real experiences so that they can integrate knowledge effectively. Therefore, researchers in this field believe that the relationship between screen use and neurological development may be linked to a possible loss of interaction with family, friends and educators. Furthermore, it has been found that exposure to screens affects circadian rhythms, which regulate the sleep-wake cycle, which could represent a mechanism to explain the relationship between excessive use of electronic devices and problems in neurological development.

The importance of these findings has motivated the World Health Organization (WHO) to issue guidelines and recommendations regarding the use of screens, which can be consulted in detail here [ref]. In summary, it is essential to establish time limits and actively monitor the content that children have access to, while encouraging physical activity, experiential learning, and the acquisition of healthy sleep habits.

This article was written by Pol Jiménez, PhD student of the BiSC Project.