Chapter 2: Nurturing the Developing Brains of Digital Natives

Between birth and the age of two, the human brain triples in volume, and billions of synaptic connections are formed. Neurodevelopmental discoveries have revealed that face-to-face interaction, manipulation of the physical world, and open-ended free play encourage the development of flexible, inquisitive, and creative brains. This chapter examines how digital media culture harms children in at least two ways: occupying children’s time with these media limit exposure to face-to-face interaction and manipulation of the physical world, and parents and caregivers distracted by demanding digital devices spend less time interacting with children, creating a model of a screen-focused rather than human-centered environment.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, FAAP, FSAHM, is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Rich came to medicine after a twelve-year career as a filmmaker (including serving as assistant director to Akira Kurosawa on Kagemusha). As the Mediatrician® (http://www.askthemediatrician.org) and director of the Center on Media and Child Health (http://www.cmch.tv) at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Rich combines his creative experience with rigorous scientific evidence to advise pediatricians, parents, and other caregivers on how to use media in ways that optimize child health and development. Recipient of the AAP’s Holroyd-Sherry Award and the SAHM New Investigator Award, Dr. Rich has developed media-based research methodologies and authored numerous papers and AAP policy statements, has testified to the U.S. Congress, and makes regular national press appearances. 

Farah Qureshi, MHS, is a doctoral candidate in social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, with research interests that focus on social factors that influence the well-being of children and youth. Upon the completion of her training, she looks forward to working across disciplines to promote evidence-based policies and programs that give young people the opportunity to become healthy, educated, and empowered adults. Farah received a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she studied child development and health communications, and a bachelor’s degree in writing from the Johns Hopkins University.

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