Effects of mobile phones and tablets on the brain

Effects of mobile phones and tablets on the brain and attention of children:

The use of screens in childhood is a controversial issue where they exist. It is clear that we have been living in the digital age for years and all the changes that it has produced (for better and for worse) have come to stay. Many parents wonder about the effects of mobile phones and tablets (excessive use of screens, in general) can have on the brain and the attention span of children.

Today’s children, the so-called ‘digital natives’ or ‘ generation T ‘, perceive technology as something natural since it has always been present in their lives. We cannot deny them or eliminate technology, but we can introduce or handle it in an appropriate way that is not harmful to their development. To better understand which would be the most appropriate method, we are going to make a small approach to what the attentional mechanism is like in childhood and, in contrast, how screens capture attention. Effects of mobile phones and tablets on the brain and attention of children are given below:

Screens capture children’s attention and brains

Screens capture children's attention and brains
Screens capture children’s attention and brains

If we observe the behavior of a young child we can see that what moves or motivates him to action is the exploration of the environment. Children need to learn to orient themselves, move, know what objects are like (shapes, textures, dimensions …) and the exploration of the environment is the mechanism used for this. You only need to see a child enter a room they have never been to, immediately anything will catch their attention and hook them into picking it up, manipulating it, and even creating a game with it.

This sensory-attentional mechanism, in which the stimulus that enters through our senses (at the auditory, visual, tactile level …) generates an impact on the child’s brain, and the neurological pathways are activated until our prefrontal cortex (the area of the upper brain where the greater control of mental abilities is) in operation, follows the natural path of neurological activation, we could say that it is natural attention.

What can be the negative effects of mobile phones or tablets?

What can be the negative effects of using screens
What can be the negative effects of using mobile phones and tablets

In contrast, screens have the opposite method of attracting attention. This mechanism generates that we can fully attend without having to activate the natural circuit, passively receiving all the information without activating that minimum effort that we make daily.

We can experience this difference in the mechanism ourselves, or is the implication your brain has when you read a novel is the same as when you watch a video on your mobile?

How should be the use of the mobile, tablet, and television of children?

How should be the use of the mobile, tablet, and television of children?
How should be the use of the mobile, tablet, and television of children?

In the first years of life (0 to 3 years) the use of screens should be avoided. This natural attentional mechanism is building and is especially fragile. This is the explanation for why many children of this age range, the screens can hook them so much or engulf them in such a striking way.

However, the absolute prohibition of screens is, at times, complicated and we find ourselves in the need to let them look at the mobile. In that case, we must take into account several things:

  • This use should be very sparingly, in short periods, and preferably with relevant content (that is when a relative sends us a video when we take a photo for a classmate or see a photo that we like).
  • It should never be used to calm a child’s tantrum or crying (since you block the brain and emotional mechanism that is activated at that moment).
  • Nor should you offer to ‘be calm’ and feed them, dress them, change their diapers, etc.

As children get older, their access to screens increases, and so does their demand for them. The most appropriate posture to take at this time is to allow an adult-supervised and accompanied used. A parent should help their child choose what to watch and when. After a prior consensus, the child is allowed to consume this content. This process is important because it has been observed that when children consume technology they do not finish the videos or the chapters they select, jumping from one place to another, which further damages attention and does not allow to educate patience and impulsiveness.

Therefore, the content that is selected must be the one that will end up being seen. In this sense, television provides more facilities than other digital platforms, since the programming is fixed and cannot be manipulated.

Alternatives for the excessive use of our children of the mobile and tablet

Also, we must analyze what is the particular case of our children. Many schools use tablets as a complementary tool for learning, which implies using many hours throughout the day (both at school and home in the afternoons) screens. In this situation, it is highly recommended that when finishing school obligations, technological means such as leisure or rest are not used, and rely on other types of sports or recreational activities to counteract the effects of mobile phones and tablet’s excessive use.

Playing sports, playing outdoors, reading a story or book, free play, talking with other children, playing a board game activate the natural attention mechanism that we talked about at the beginning and it is also a break for the ‘over- activated brain ‘by the screens, which in most cases offer a lot of stimulation, at high speed and in a short time.

On the other hand, guides such as ‘ We can help children reduce the time they spend in front of the screen ‘ from the We Can! of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the United States Government also recommend reducing the time that children spend with the screens: get involved in the education of our children, talk with them to establish limits, minimize family consumption of television, eat as a family ...

The complete elimination of screens in the lives of children is something truly difficult, but if we understand what are the effects of mobile phones and tablets use and that parental accompaniment and supervision is crucial, we can teach them to make responsible use and, above all, not harmful to the brain.