Can Smart devices make Babies Smarter? A Scientific Debate

With over 3 billion smart phone users around the globe, the trickle down effect of this widespread trend is obvious in younger generation. It comes as a shocking revelation by some studies that nowadays over 70% of kids in age group of 7-12 years have smart phones or tablets while around 25% of toddlers have access to smart devices for more than 2 hours a day. In this new era of technology, smart phones and tablets are becoming sort of virtual baby sitters for children right from the start and are now replacing parents’ care and attention that is crucial for brain development as well as physical and emotional growth.

The extensive claims of tech companies to make babies smarter with smart devices is highly debatable. Yet parents are often found in agreement with the assertions that smart devices with their popular videos and apps can make children speak earlier than their peers and make them smarter and more prepared for the competitive world. However, there is a serious rebuttal by researchers, experts in neuropathy and educators regarding the consequences of handing over smart devices to children at young age. With rising complaints regarding child behavior nowadays, it is vital to look at the scientific reasons for avoiding smart phones and tablets for toddlers and younger children.

Disorganized Gray and White Matter

Jean Piaget, a renowned psychologist from 1900s, developed the theory of cognitive development and genetic epistemology. Piaget insisted that process of thinking and intellectual development could be regarded as an extension of biological process of the adaptation of the species. Children from age 2 onward experience through their movement and senses and are more people and object oriented. This understanding of the world around them is severely disrupted when babies and toddlers start focusing on screens and videos that is beyond their touch and control.

The missing elements of conversations, facial expressions, human touch and affection hampers the development and utilization of white and gray matter in their brain. The gray matter controls muscular, coordination, emotional and sensory activities while white matter is what provides this essential connectivity which allows to perform mental operations. Using smart devices as source of over stimulated scenarios, languages, and information can hinder healthy organization and development of brain function.

Disorganized Neuron Connections

A study by University of California, UCLA’s memory and aging research center found that due to disorganized white matter in brain, the neuron connections are also negatively affected when babies and toddlers use smart devices for learning. Studies found that left front part of the brain, called dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex remained active and engaged for kids who used smart devices and technology. However, with time, screen exposure rewires the brain and basic functions of traditional learning methods such as reading, writing, coordination and concentration that are hampered in the process. The cognitive and dopamine function of brain are mostly damaged for children with more than recommended screen time.

Delay in Literacy and Language Skills

Unlike what is propagated by app and video developers, research shows that for each hour that babies and toddlers spend on smart devices, they learn at least 6-8 less words per day compared to kids who have human interaction for language learning. The worst impact of smart devices was found for babies of 8-18 months of age as it is the crucial age of literacy and language development. Watching videos and educational apps do not provide the natural stimuli in baby’s brain which is achieved through human interaction. Comparatively, parents or caretakers who read books and poems to their babies daily, have witnessed amazing brain development and language skills among others.

Over Stimulation of Brain and Boredom

Over stimulation through use of bright colored apps and videos is another drawback of smart devices for babies. It is found that babies who grow up watching videos and apps since childhood have more emotional problems such as boredom and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as they grow old. This is because of over stimulation of brain that they get from smart phone apps and videos. Since natural reactions of conversation are beyond babies’ control when they are watching screens, their minds are structured according to overstimulated scenarios in those videos. This in turn makes the real world dull and boring as kids expect constant stimulation which is not present in the real world.

Sleep Deprivation, Sedentary Behavior and Digital Eye Strain

While most parents hand over smart phone devices to babies and kids in order to encourage eating and sleeping, some of the most common side effects of giving them smart devices for educational apps and videos include sleep deprivation which comes with inactivity and over stimulation of brain. The inactivity of babies and toddlers is causing a worldwide risk of global mortality and obesity related ill-health. Moreover, the early exposure to screens can have a direct strain on eyes called computer-vision syndrome or digital eye strain. Research suggests that fluctuating vision, dry eyes and fatigue can start in babies as early as 6 months old and thus, instead of making sedentary time screen time, parents should aim to include healthy sedentary habits like reading out books or stories to babies and kids.

Screen Time Guidelines by Experts

Based on the research done on brain development of babies and children in past few years, various health institutions like World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have issued the following guidelines for screen time for babies and children:

  • Children under 18 months of age: No Screen Time at all
  • Children from 18 – 24 month: High Quality Media under parental guidance for less than 1 hour
  • Children from 24 months – 5 years onward: High Quality Media under parental guidance for 1 – 1.5 hour per day

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