Excessive screen time has significant impacts on young minds

Dr Diem Pham

writer

Dr Diem Pham

GP

Dr Diem Pham

 

Reducing this can improve a child’s behaviour and social skills

GPs are often the first point of contact for parents who are concerned about their children’s behaviour and development. They play a critical role in identifying possible causation and providing ongoing support.

Dr Rachael Sharman, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, suggests that GPs can help in assessing whether some of these presentations may be related to the impact of screen-based gadgets (e.g. handheld tablets, mobile devices etc). She has recently co-authored a book which details studies suggesting that very young children who are over-exposed to digital technology are developing cognitive changes that ultimately result in mental and social deficits common to Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“Virtual autism” has emerged to describe the condition that is believed to occur when young children (under the age of three) are exposed to excessive screen exposure. While it is unclear to what degree these symptoms may be reversible this very modern problem is beginning to be seen as a public health issue with very broad implications.

Dr Sharman explains that GPs can watch their patients in the waiting room and during the consultation as well as ask parents early about screen time. Seeking to understand the child’s daily environment and how much socialisation they are getting are also helpful additional details. If there appears to be a likely relationship between the behaviours and digital technology usage, parents can be offered practical tips and strategies that can lead to reversal of the cognitive changes.

Over-exposure to screen-based gadgets during the critical early years of development, appears to particularly stunt a child’s level of attention, social skills and Theory of Mind (the understanding that we all share individual and different states of mind, emotions, thoughts, beliefs and knowledge).

These children display autistic-like behaviours and the impact from early childhood can continue onto adolescence. Dr Sharman advises that parents should place healthy limits when allowing their children to use digital technology and the research particularly highlights the detrimental effects that occur when there is 4 hours or more of screen exposure each day.

Whilst her research centres around very young children, Dr Sharman noted that there is emerging evidence from other neuroscience and psychology studies that indicate that adolescents having intense screen time also appear to suffer more problems with behaviours such as school refusal and severe anxiety related to understanding the perspective of others.

Dr Sharman reassures that once the issue is identified, parents can be well supported to help their children develop the necessary skills and correct the deficiencies.

Dr Rachael Sharman is giving a lecture on digital technology and its impact on the developing brain and the Healthed webcast on Tuesday 8th of November. Register here to attend.

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Dr Diem Pham

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Dr Diem Pham

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