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How are smartphones affecting your child’s brain?

Brain Development and Technology

[EDITORS NOTE: I have gone to great lengths (Waldorf school, third world living, remote island, no TV, no ipads) to create a culture for my children that isn’t dictated by technology. Why? Because the science is very clear on the damage it does to a child’s brains. And because I wanted a family culture that was about love, adventure, spirit, literature, nature, and to do that these days is hard enough, without adding on the myriad influences of media. Here’s an article by a new Green Mama contributor that is perhaps a bit more accessible for many. Enjoy!]

Do you remember the iconic ad against drugs in the late 80’s that showed an egg frying in a pan?

Most of us can answer this question with a resounding yes. After all, how can we forget the sobering image of that fried egg splattering and crisping in a skillet? This basic object lesson, accompanied with a smooth voice, showed a visual representation of our brains on drugs and put it into terms everyone could relate to.

Today, we are facing another problem that can alter the human brain and the development in our sons and daughters. Research is uncovering that smartphones and technology are causing changes to brain function without ever taking a drug or swig of alcohol. For many parents, it may surprise us that our kids’ love of all things digital might be actually be causing changes deep inside their brains when exposed to fast paced media and digital multi-tasking.

Brain Development and the Learning Process

We have known for years that children learn from watching us, manipulating the world around them, and accommodating that information into their lives. Brain development is an ongoing process impacted by the quality of a child’s interactions. During early childhood, and again at adolescence, brains undergo an important surge of growth.

During the first few months and years, there are more than 1 million new neural connections formed every second. This is why childhood experts and teachers stress the importance of face-to-face interactions with our kids, reading to them, and exposing them to new concepts. This prolific growth is causing connections and pathways to be formed within the brain, building a sturdy foundation for all learning and behaviors to follow.

As a child ages, this construction slows as connections that aren’t frequently used get pruned away. This process makes the brain more efficient, allowing complex learning to develop on the already well established pathways. During adolescence, we see another surge of growth occurring in the prefrontal cortex connecting the emotional part of the brain with the rational side. This finally finds their brains maturing around the age of 25.

Understanding How Smartphones and Devices Change the Brain

Technology, whether it is written words found in books or the Internet, changes how we learn. For example, when books became widely available, reading emerged our brains adapting them to become more focused and imaginative. Today, however, the fast paced world of computers is strengthening our brain’s ability to fastly and efficiently scan information. This can impact everything from memory, attention, imagination, and expressive language skills.

Due to the fact that brain connections are still forming, frequent exposures to smartphones and similar devices are wiring our children’s brains differently than previous generations’. There is evidence that the fast paced world of our smartphones, social media, and digital technology is altering brain development in children. This is changing the way they process information and is further hindered with the release of dopamine, a feel good hormone, which can cause addictive behaviors to form.


5 Essential Ways to Dial Back Control

Awareness is the first step in understanding how technology is affecting our child’s brain. However, technology does offer our children a variety of benefits through educational opportunities and ways to communicate. The key to avoiding problems from developing is moderation and mindfulness when it comes to smartphones and technology.

Listed below are 5 tips to help balance our children’s technology:

Limit a child’s screen time. Today’s children spend an average of 9 hours consuming media everyday. Most pediatricians urge parents to reduce this number based on a child’s age. Children under 18 months should  have no screen time at all, not even background. And until 5 they suggest no more than an hour of programming WITH a parent watching and explaining along. [The editor highly recommend Cris Rowan’s suggestions for balancing media use in a family, these include no screens before two and only an hour/two after). Here’s her Huffington Post article on screens and children.]

Designate “no technology zones” within our homes. Keep technology use at bay by only allowing it in common living areas, outside of bedrooms, and powering down during family activities. This will protect family dinners, game nights, and a child’s sleep.

Lead by example. We have already established that children learn from example. We need to make a conscious choice to take breaks from technology and foster relationships within our families without batteries or an outlet.

Encourage children to focus on one activity at a time. Multi-tasking might appear to be efficient, but studies are finding that trying to do too many things at once is actually counter productive. Tell children to turn of games, televisions, or phones when doing homework, playing, or talking with friends. This will help them be present in the moment and reduce interference from electronics.

Establish a “power down policy” for older kids. Considering making it a rule all devices need to be shut down by a certain time or only allow devices to be used during an established time window. This limit tech use without eliminating it altogether.

[This is a big hot-button issue for many families. It has a class component, it touches into addiction, and family-values. But we learn and improve through talking and sharing and modeling. So let’s keep this discussion alive!]

How does your family reduce the negative impacts on children from smartphones and technology?

By new Green Mama contributor Amy K. Williams.



Read more:

On or in the Green Mama book and check out the work of author Cris Rowan at This is a source with endless information by the author of Virtual Child: The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children


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