In today’s technologically advanced society, children spend more time on their tablets than on the playground. However, a new study suggests that excessive screen time during childhood may increase the risk of mental health complications as children age.
The new findings, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, indicate that children between the ages of nine and ten who engage in prolonged screen media activity (SMA) on their tablets, smartphones, video games, and televisions report an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety by the ages of eleven and twelve. The study also revealed that these mood disorders might result from structural changes in the developing brain.
Approximately 2% to 3% of children who developed mood disorders due to structural changes in the brain were relatively compact. However, experts noted that this new research is essential for studying the effects of screen time on children.
In the current Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, Potenza and his team utilized data from more than 5,100 children aged nine to ten, including brain scans, psychological assessments, and behavioral analysis. The team conducted a two-year follow-up to assess the children’s development.
In the first round, the team observed that children who spent more time in front of screens were more susceptible to mood disorders, in addition to maladaptive behaviors such as aggression and disobedience. Two years later, they followed up.
At 11 and 12 years of age, the children continued to exhibit symptoms of their mood disorders. However, the study did not find a correlation between the same structural changes in the brain and prolonged screen time and aggressive behavior.
The observed brain changes affected both subcortical regions associated with cravings and cortical regions involved in higher-level functions such as attention or emotional regulation.
“Our findings provide a deeper understanding of how SMA may affect brain development in relation to the development of internalizing psychopathology,” concluded the research team.