In total, “The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time work week,” said Drew Altman, PhD, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “When kids are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it’s affecting them—for good and bad.”

What’s normal for our children is to spend hours and hours per day with the television, computer, cell phone, iPod, iPad, notebook, tablet, laptop, and whatever else gets rolled out in the tech world tomorrow.

But is “normal” best for your child?

Effects of Screen Time on the Developing Brain

With the best of intentions, we’ve brought gadgets and gizmos into our homes and lives. We thought we were doing the right thing by allowing our children to become technologically literate, knowing this skill would prove valuable in their futures. But as is often the case, we’re finding too much of a good thing isn’t that good. Kids spend increasing amounts of time in front of a screen, any kind of a screen, from an iPod mini to a fifty-five-inch flat screen, and all this screen time has a powerful effect on their growing brains. Here are some results to consider as you evaluate whether your child is overusing technologies.

  • Tissue development can be retarded in certain parts of the brain, especially among young children whose brains are developing rapidly. The human brain is genetically wired to develop in natural, sensorial, and kinesthetic settings by doing things with one’s senses. A brain that develops in front of a screen for too long can miss out on its natural growth trajectory.
  • The more media and technology a child uses, the greater the chance of a child getting lower grades. The Kaiser study found that just under half (47 percent) of the heaviest media users received fair or poor grades (mostly Cs or lower), compared to about a quarter (23 percent) of light users (who consume less than three hours of media per day).

Teachers anecdotally confirm this. Common Sense Media polled 685 classroom teachers on how children’s use of media and technology—television, video games, texting, social networking, music—affects school achievement and performance. More than 70 percent of teachers reported students’ media use hurts their attention and focus in school. The report stated what is probably obvious to any of us who have seen our son’s homework quality decline: “Many teachers think students spend so much time with media that they neglect their homework and aren’t prepared in class.”

In this report, elementary school teachers saw more video games, television, and computer games as invading student work and performance; middle and high school teachers saw more negative impacts on learning from overuse of texting and social networking. Two-thirds of teachers also said they noticed entertainment media having a “very” or “somewhat” negative impact on early and intense sexualization of students. Other studies have also noted increased aggression among children who see a constant barrage of violent imagery on television, online, and in video games.

But the news is not all bad.

According to the Common Sense Media study, 63 percent of teachers saw media helping students find information quickly and efficiently, and 34 percent of teachers thought students multitask better than they would have without the constant use of multiple technologies (televisions, computers, video games, iPods, MP3 players, and smartphones).

James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, said, “We know that our children learn from the media they consume. This survey is yet another reminder of how critical it is to consistently guide our kids to make good media choices and balance the amount of time they spend with any media and all of their other activities.”