Does screen time benefit my child in any way?

Electronic devices and television may not actually harm your brain! Over the years, there has been much debate in the neuroscience research about whether or not TV and electronic devices kill your brain cells. It turns out, that our kids’ brains can actually be changed for the better! We just have to WATCH!

TV and electronic device use does change our brains. Spoiler alert: So does just about any kind of repeated stimulation and learning. Naturally our brains are constantly changing. That’s what makes them so adaptive. With screen time, our visual centers can be enhanced and the areas involved in fine motor skills can increase. Certain aspects of problem solving can improve. Schools have even seen an increase in student engagement, motivation, and learning.  

The issue has been with kids and teenagers who watch extended amounts of TV, those who are addicted to electronic devices, and those who watch violent content. These kids have been shown to develop larger parts of their brains that we associate with maladaptive behaviors, like those associated with aggressive tendencies or mood disorders.

Excessive use can also cause problems with cognitive functioning, like slower processing, poor inhibition, or cause issues in the reward system, which impairs behavior and makes kids less likely to do things that are good for them.

Most kids who experience a reasonable amount of screen time, however, can benefit from the advances in technology to improve their learning.

When it comes to screen time, we know certain things are bad for kids’ brains:

  • Sedentary behavior or movement
  • Doing only one thing or limiting kids’ experiences
  • Lack of engagement with the world or people around them
  • Too much of anything
  • Poor eating or sleeping habits

Television and other screen time tend to increase the “bad brain” habits. Kids who use these devices around bedtime often lack healthy sleep routines. Some have even gone hours without eating or engaging with others.

On the flip side, we know other things are good for kids’ brains:

  • Movement and exercise
  • Exposure to different kinds of activities or experiences
  • Interaction with people and things
  • Things in moderation 
  • Good sleeping habits and healthy brain foods

You can encourage kids to use apps that promote “good brain” habits like GoNoodle, a fabulous website that promotes healthy educational content and physical movement. Similarly, you can find gaming that promotes movement and interaction, like the WiiSports. You can also promote healthy electronic use by looking for educational apps for your kids like XtraMath or Learning A-Z or programming like the YouTube channel Crash Course for older children and Crash Course Kids for younger ones.

Stick with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. Ensure that your child develops good interpersonal skills before the age of two. After that, keep television and electronic use to a couple hours a day. Instead, promote the healthy brain activities listed above. 

Otherwise, you should just WATCH.

Watch what they watch 

Watch when they watch

Watch how they watch

Watch for the “bad brain” habits and promote the “good brain” habits. The good news is that you can use electronic devices to help promote “good brain” habits.

There are times that you should further limit your child’s screen time. This includes if your child has visual issues or screen time fatigues their eyes, aggressive tendencies, or is at risk for a preoccupation or extreme use like those on the Autism Spectrum or ADHD. If you notice your child develops or increases behaviors you don’t like, reduce their access to electronics and increase their exposure to social and physical activities such as the “good brain” habits.

Use your parent gut. You know your child and now you know the principles that can help guide you in exposing them to appropriate amounts and types of screen time!


Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here. Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »