Humans are 1% what the brain is and 99% what the mind dictates. Brains can expand and shrink, depending on what the human does with it. All brain activity can be observed, from the moment you start thinking, through feeling and then acting on those thoughts and feelings.
The process of creating habits, which may take up to 63 days of continuous work to become second nature, is completed thanks to the formation of proteins, whose accumulation determines whether someone will be able to deal with a challenge he is trying to overcome.
Despite the mind being an elusive component of being human, it is there where we all originate. The brain is the action vessel where the thoughts and feelings are executed at the behest of the mind. So what happens when the mind is not within our control? How does the brain handle the environment around us?
Diving into a Child’s Brain
The brain of a newborn is a brain under construction. Although it has more than twice the neurons it needs, it is a brain whose nerve cells are not connected.
What will make these neurons begin to connect and communicate with each other?
The environment in which the child develops. In essence, it is the parents and their values that will determine, at first, the child’s way of learning.
The main caregivers and the environment in which the child lives will be the ones that determine in which way the child’s brain will develop. The same can be said about health.
Therefore, parents and teachers are essential in this process of learning and evolution. But as we said before, we are not the only ones to teach.
Today, electronic devices we have at home and in schools have much to say, both for good and for bad. Our brains are wired to our DNA, but it is not the case that we depend solely on our genes (nature) to become whom we want. In fact, only 5% of who we are and will be, depends on genes. Around 95% will be shaped by the environment (nurture).
There are studies that show that children who spend too many hours a day being in contact with tablets, mobiles or television have lower levels of myelin.
Myelin is a substance that covers the axons of neurons, which allows neuronal connectivity and its speed to be adequate. Every little interaction we have promotes the multiplication of neuronal activity in the brain. Brain cells grow, connect and develop forming complex systems of communication that no one, not even artificial intelligence can match. In fact, the most advanced AI system ever constructed by humans can only mirror the action of one neuron at a time. Humans possess upwards of 200 billion of these cells in their brains.
In children who spend more time than due to electronic devices, a decrease in myelin has been found, which makes the speed of brain processing significantly slower.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children under two years of age do not use electronic devices at all. From two years to five, they recommend no more than one hour a day in front of the screens.
In my humble opinion, children should not have frequent contact with devices with a screen until they are six years old, since during the first six years of life executive functions are being developed in a specific part of the brain: the prefrontal cortex.
Executive functions are what differentiate us from the rest of the species: concentration, impulse inhibition, operational memory, planning, emotional self-regulation, etc. In these first six or seven years of life, children develop the basic rudiments of executive functions.
If children are exposed to too much content on screens, it is more than likely that we find ourselves in difficulties in executive processes.
For example, there are investigations that have found a close relationship between screen abuse and concentration. Pediatrician Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Health, Behavior and Child Development in Seattle, has devoted much of his professional career to studying how screens influence children’s brain development.
Such consequences are known as the screen effect. Christakis studies find that the greater the number of hours a child watches television, the more likely that in the future he will have difficulty concentrating.
Concentration is an executive process that requires voluntariness, awareness and perseverance.
In addition, we concentrate due to an internal and active mechanism. If our children are excessively exposed to television, we will be favoring external and passive processes, something that clashes frontally with the characteristics necessary to favor concentration.
Christakis found that for every daily hour that a child under three years of age watches television, he increases his probability that he will have difficulty concentrating in the future.
Now, if repeated stimulation of television content or technological devices increases the likelihood that our children will have difficulty concentrating, what can improve their ability to concentrate?
Any activity that a child or an adult performs that involves reading and learning will promote brain health. The more someone reads and learns, the more brain cell connections will develop and the bigger the brain will be. A bigger brain means more protein development, which in turn means more raw material to carry out more reading and more learning.
Christakis found that parents who cognitively stimulate their children not only protect them from these difficulties but also enhance and strengthen their concentration.
Activities such as playing with wooden blocks, puzzles, reading stories, symbolic play or serrations are very effective in fostering the active and voluntary initiative of our children. Being in touch and enjoying nature has a positive effect on them.
Natural environments teach our children to wait, to be patient and to delay gratification.
We can say that the ability to concentrate debuts around two years, while over four years the inhibitory neurons proliferate in the brain. Their actions will allow children to inhibit their impulses and not be distracted.
The correct balance between the capacity of contraction and the inhibition of impulses is established over 6 years of age, which is why I consider that electronic devices and the use of excess screens do a disservice to the development of the brain and its executive functions.
One of the problems of the drawings, movies and content that our children see on television are the changes in scenes so frequent and sudden that they have. If our children abuse these devices they will get used to these changes and will collide head-on with reality.
Your day to day, off the screens, has nothing to do with what they see on them. Given the abuse of electronic devices, one of the most common consequences will be that real life will seem monotonous and slow.
They are so used to such a level of activity and brain stimulation that anything will be boring.
Good use of the devices
Despite the problems that electronic devices may bring to the development of your child’s brain, there are positive ways to use mobile phones, tablets and even television sets.
I suggest some guidelines to take into account for the good use of electronic devices in children so that we do not go against their brain development.
Let’s not forget that our brain did not evolve to be in a technological world, but is designed to survive in a real, not imaginary, world.
Parents are models: the best we can do so that our children use electronic devices responsibly is to make moderate use of them.
Do not allow your child to come in contact with electronic devices until after they have reached or past 7 years of age. Set specific rules on the use of technological devices at home: we should not allow the use of mobile phones during meals and we should not watch TV while we have dinner.
The important thing is that we talk to all family members when we eat or have dinner. It is also necessary to establish rules for the use of mobile phones, tablets and computers in the rooms, common spaces, and so on. Children should use mobile devices to enhance learning, for example, and to develop XXI century skills such as reasoning, critical thinking and others.
Mobile games and activities should be as active as possible: if we opt for the use of electronic devices at home, we must analyze their contents well.
When our child is with the mobile phone, the computer or the tablet in hand, let’s try to make the activities he carries out as active as possible.
It is better to make a puzzle or sudoku than to watch a video. Even so, if we can do puzzles in a natural and manipulative way, the better.
With less use of screens, they will have a more realistic idea of the world in which they live: we have already seen that the abuse of electronic devices implies that the real world in which they live seems monotonous and boring, because they are accustomed to a massive exposure to distractions that are hyperactive and very stimulating, something that does not exist in reality
To adopt a position consistent with our way of thinking: it does not consist of being extremist or inflexible, but in thinking what place computers and mobiles should occupy in the lives of our children and, from there, be rigorous and consistent with what we have decided.
Be careful with using mobile devices as “emotional pacifiers”: sometimes, when our child is angry or sad about something, we let him use our mobile phones as a relaxation mechanism.
If we want to be able to identify the emotion a child is experiencing and for them to know how to self-regulate, we must teach them to do so. Letting the anger pass with a mobile phone is not a good alternative to work on frustration tolerance or emotional self-regulation.
General guidelines with children: more affection, bonding and symbolic play and fewer tablets, computers and mobiles. We live in a world that is more and more technologically connected, but less and less personally connected and more emotionally abandoned.
In conclusion, we can say that an excess and abuse of electronic devices and screens will be harmful to our children and their brain, remember that it is still in development.
Feeding children while watching mobile or television prevents them, among many other things, from being aware of whether they are satiated or not, and not allowing them to communicate with their parents and siblings while they enjoy eating as a family.
It has been proven that seeing the mobile while eating, whether accompanied or not, increases the likelihood of being overweight due to not being aware that we are satiated.
Of course, screens and electronic devices are here to stay, but let’s be aware of what they bring to our children and what they are taking away from us.