We often talk about how what we consume, and what our kids consume, impacts the conditions of our hearts.

And it does.

But did you know that what we watch also impacts our brains? Especially when it comes to children. 

While we might bristle against the idea of boundaries, adults and children both thrive when pre-determined guardrails are established. When we set boundaries for our children and their media consumption, we’re stepping into our God-given role as parents— stewarding and loving them well. We’re also teaching them what it looks like to steward their own time, brains, and bodies well in the era of tech.

More real-time play and less fast-paced media

Dr. Christakis, the Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, has shown that overstimulation is a major issue for developing brains.

In a TEDx presentation, Dr. Christakis shared his research on digital tech and the overstimulation of brains of children under the age of seven. One group watched shows that moved at the pace of real life, another group watched a show that moved faster than real life, and a third group watched a show that moved faster than real life and contained violent content.

His findings?

  • When watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood there was a 0% increase of inattention.

  • When watching Powder Puff Girls children were 60% more likely to experience inattention.

  • And when watching violent programming, children were 110% more likely to experience inattention.

Dr. Christakis challenges parents to have “more real-time play and less fast-paced media.” If it’s faster than real life, it’s going to have a negative impact on their developing brains (Media and Children, 2011).

Stewards of their little hearts and heads

So while we are concerned with the hearts of our children— we are told to guard them above all else in Proverbs— part of that concern must extend to the physiological impacts of our choices. 

We’d be remiss as parents to ignore the relationships that exist within our bodies. For example, there are real consequences to letting my son consume too much sugar— to his attitude, his body, his attention, and his heart. 

I delight in serving my son cake on his birthday, but I wouldn’t be loving him well if I served him cake for every meal, or even every day. There are certainly times to celebrate and indulge; but the impact is also tangible. After eating cake, his little body is pulsing with frenetic energy, his brain is telling him to get more, his body is spiking (and preparing for a quick crash)— his heart is telling him, “All I love in life is CAKE!” 

The same multifaceted impact happens with our kids and screens. We must consider the whole child as we evaluate the way screen time affects them.

We must consider the whole child as we evaluate the way screen time affects them.

How long do images stay on the screen?

One quick test to evaluate how screen time might affect our kids— especially for young children— is to count how long the screen stays on each image. The closer the show moves to the pace of real-life, the better.

Even little YouTube videos that might seem innocent can have a rapid succession of images that are damaging to developing brains. Fred Rogers speaks slowly, moves slowly, and makes cuts slowly because that’s the pace at which young, developing minds can take in information.

How does your child behave after screen time?

Another factor you might consider is how your child behaves after his or her screen time. 

We’ve seen this with our own children at different stages of their development:

When our oldest son was a toddler, it took him a long time to recover after watching Octonauts. His attitude was poor and it was clear that his little heart wanted nothing more than to continue watching episode after episode. He struggled to transition, became mean spirited towards his baby brother, and incessantly asked when he could watch another episode.

According to Dr. Victoria L. Dunkley, Electronic Screen Syndrome can present as “irritable mood, poor focus or disorganization, low frustration tolerance, and problematic behaviors such as argumentativeness or poor eye contact” (Psychology Today). 

If your child exhibits these behaviors, think critically about their screen time. It may very well be that his/her nervous system is overstimulated and hyper-aroused, therefore causing the brain to function in a state of chronic stress (Psychology Today).

All your heart, soul, mind, and strength

Children’s brains are simply not made to absorb content at the rapid rate the entertainment geared for them produces it. There are, as research indicates, physiological and behavioral implications to what our children watch. 

The mind and the body cannot be separated— they were purposefully designed by God to work as one, for our own good and for the glory of God the creator.

God has called us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut. 6:5)— and he’s commissioned us, as parents, to teach our children to do the same. 

Consider Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” How might that well-known verse apply at the intersection of screen time and your home?


For further reading and recommendation if you think your child might be overstimulated via screen time, we recommend reading this post on the RESET, as well as considering a 3 to 4 week tech fast. Similar to when you have a food allergy and you eliminate the culprit from your diet in order to reach optimal health, sometimes we need to completely remove screen time from our children’s diet in order to reestablish their baseline norm.

For more analysis of Electronic Screen Syndrome, see Dr. Dunkley’s full article here: Is Your Child Overstimulated from Too Much Screen Time? | Psychology Today

For Dr. Christakis’s full talk on Media and Children, click here: TEDxRainier – Dimitri Christakis – Media and Children – YouTube