These days we’re starting to see how it is common for parents to put a screen in front of their kids during meals. Given that our smartphones and tablets can play videos and play games, it seems like the perfect way to keep kids quiet and entertained. However a recent study has suggested that maybe it might not be the best thing to do.

In an ongoing study funded by the National Institutes of Health (via Bloomberg), it has been found that too much screen time can actually physically alter the brain structure in kids. The study found that in the first batch of brain scans of 4,500 9-10 year olds, those who spent more than 7 hours a day in front of a screen showed premature thinning of the brain cortex, which is the outermost layer that helps to process information from the physical world.

Is this a bad thing? It sounds like it could be, but NIH study director Gaya Dowling has cautioned against drawing a conclusion from these findings. Speaking during a broadcast of CBS’ 60 Minutes, Dowling said, “We don’t know if it’s being caused by the screen time. We don’t know if it’s a bad thing. It won’t be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we’re seeing in this single snapshot.”

Like we said, this is an ongoing study that is expected to see scientists follow their subjects for more than a decade to truly gain an understanding of how the use of digital devices can affect their brains, emotional development, and mental health. That being said, we suppose swapping out that smartphone/tablet for a toy or a book every now and then might not be such a bad idea.

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