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  • Brain Scans of Kids Who Frequently Use Gadgets Show a 'Thinning Cortex'

    A multi-million dollar U.S. study reveals their initial findings, and parents will want to pay attention.
    by Lei Dimarucut-Sison .
Brain Scans of Kids Who Frequently Use Gadgets Show a 'Thinning Cortex'
PHOTO BY @junce/iStock
  • In the last few years, a number of studies have pointed to screen time as the culprit for behavioral problems among kids.

    U.S-based psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman claims in his research paper that prolonged gadget use can lead to Screen Dependency Disorder.

    A study also found that babies aged 6 to 11 months got less sleep and even took longer to sleep when they spent a lot of time playing with touch-screen devices.

    Another study links the use of handheld devices to speech delay in children 6 months to 2 years old.

    Now, there's more direct evidence about how screen time could be impacting young kids' brains.

    Early results from the US$300-million study called the A.B.C.D. Study (Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development) financed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States reveals that heavy screen use was associated with "accelerated cortical thinning" in the brain in some of their subjects.

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    The ongoing research aims to observe more than 11,000 individuals from childhood to adolescence and monitor their brain activity through an annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The project began in 2013, but has since expanded the scope from its original focus on the effects of drug and alcohol use to the adolescent brain. 

    From the initial data reported by the CBS news show 60 Minutes, brain scans of more then 4,500 pre-teens were analyzed in correlation to their screen time. The results showed significant differences in the brains of some kids who use gadgets, tablets, smartphones and video games for more than seven hours a day.

    In some heavy screen users, the scans revealed premature thinning of the cortex, that layer of the brain that processes sensory information, BUT Dr. Gaya Dowling of the NIH admits, "We don't know yet if it's a bad thing," or if it's just part of their maturation process. 

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    More definitive data, however, reveals that the kids who spent more than two hours a day using screens did not do well on aptitude tests on thinking and language.

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    Dr. Dowling says it will take a while before a conclusion could be made "because they need to happen [first].[Then,] we'll be able to see not only how much time are they spending, how they perceive it impacting them, but also what are some of the outcomes. And that will get at the question of whether there's addiction or not."

    Says Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who led the research on which the latest American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) screen time guidelines are based, in an interview with 60 Minutes, "If you're concerned about your teenager being addicted to their iPhone, your infant is much more vulnerable in using the exact same device."

    Recently, the AAP updated the guidelines, recommending that parents avoid media use in children younger than 18 to 24 months, except when video chatting. Read more about it here.

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