How to help toddlers improve brain health

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Ample evidence suggests increased screen time has potentially adverse effects on human health. (I’d add that it also has potentially negative effects on human relationships.) Today, we’re focusing on how to help toddlers improve the health of their little, magnificent, wonderful brains. Yes, I’m going to tell you to cut back (if not eliminate) their screen time. No, I’m not anti-technology.

I believe all people should learn how to peacefully coexist with and make use of advanced technology. Okay, I’m giving my 91-year-old mother a pass. She says she is content “as is” and not interested in getting plugged-in. I respect her choices. Many people, however, will benefit from learning how to use advanced technology and also teaching their children the same. Now, comes the first “BUT.”

Screen time doesn’t help toddlers as much as you think

I’ll admit, it’s “totes adorbs” when I watch my sweet 3-year-old grand-daughter successfully access YouTube and watch her favorite shows. Thankfully, her wonderful mother is careful to avoid allowing too much screen time. Also thankfully, my daughter-in-law interacts with her (four) children continually, every day. Sadly, many parents fall into a habit of placing toddlers in front of hand-held electronic devices more often than spending one-on-one time with them.

Numerous issues give rise to such habits. Moms and dads work a lot, many, from home. We live in a time when parents can be entrepreneurs, which has its own benefits because they don’t necessarily have to leave home to work. Screen time isn’t inherently bad but (There it is!) it isn’t inherently good either. The problem is that toddlers who have more screen time usually have less parental interaction time. Recent studies show this combination has adverse effects on children’s brains.

Researchers have this to say about how to help toddlers

Learning that is critical to each human person takes place within the first five years of life. Our brains have white matter and gray matter. Each region serves multiple specific purposes and functions. In simplest terms, gray matter tells and enables your body to do stuff. White matter is like connecting cables that help the various parts of your brain’s gray matter communicate with each other.

Too much screen time and not enough parental interaction is a recipe for disaster if the goal is to help toddlers improve brain health. Researchers used specialized scanning devices to test the brains of more than 45 pre-kindergarten age children. Results consistently show impaired executive (frontal lobe) function, language delay and sleep disturbances (i.e. negatively affected white brain matter) in kids who have two or more hours of screen time in an average day.

Parents glued to screens have less time to help toddlers

Moms and dads working several hustles to earn a buck from home often use advanced technology. They’re hosting online seminars, doing Facebook lives and otherwise connecting with clients, mentors and team members. Business often takes place alongside family life. It’s the way of the modern world. It has many benefits. Here comes the next “BUT.”

According to researchers, toddlers using three to five hours per day of screen time typically have parents using double or triple that amount. You don’t need a doctorate degree to figure out that this scenario doesn’t leave much time for parent/child interaction. Parents interacting with their children is the best means to help toddlers improve brain health, but without it, impairment is likely to occur.

Screen time prohibits person-to-person contact

Any time a parent is interacting with a toddler, spectacular things are happening in the child’s brain. To the contrary, if the child is engaged in isolated screen time, without parental participation, those spectacular things are denied the opportunity to take place. In other words, it is human interaction that enables the white matter (cable system) of the brain to thrive. If the white matter is not developing, the gray matter will eventually suffer because the necessary “message delivery” can’t occur.

When a parent holds an infant or toddler in his or her lap, reads stories or sing songs, it helps toddlers improve brain health. Eye-to-eye contact, talking, laughing, snuggling, coloring and more are integral components of successful brain development. The self-to-virtual interaction your toddler has during screen time lacks what is necessary to promote healthy white brain matter.

Let’s get a few things straight

Is all screen time for toddlers bad? Probably not, but many parents opt for waiting until children are school age or beyond to allow use of electronics. According to the recent studies, it’s all relative. It’s not just screen time but how much, how often, etc. In conjunction with that information, you must factor in how much (or, sadly, how little) parent/child interaction is taking place each day. If you’re allowing your toddler daily screen time, it’s best if you participate with him or her. This way, your child has much needed parental interaction to help build and strengthen the white matter cable connection system in his or her brain.

The fact is, there is no adequate replacement to help toddlers improve brain health when parent/child interaction is absent or infrequent. It would undoubtedly be better to enlist the help of an older sibling or hiring a babysitter to play with or interact with your toddler while you work. This choice likely provides a greater chance of maximizing brain potential than allowing toddlers regular amounts of all-alone screen time.

The big picture

Your child only gets one brain. There’s ample scientific evidence to show that the first five years of life are most important regarding learning potential. During this time, your infant’s or toddler’s brain is like a sponge, ready and waiting to soak up every person-to-person interaction. Don’t be fooled into thinking that screen time can foster the same type of growth and deveopment. It can’t.

You can help toddlers improve brain health. Always make sure the time you spend interacting with your children far outweighs their screen time. Is there a job, chore, social gathering, business idea or income that is worth more than your child’s well-being? Of course, not, so make brain health a central focus of every day and schedule your time accordingly. Parent/child interaction is (or should be) the highest priority.



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