The ‘Popcorn’ Effect on Our Children

From Screen to Brain: The ‘Popcorn’ Effect on Our Children

Recently while doom scrolling on Instagram, I came across a reel about "Popcorn Brain." The term fascinated me. I turned to Google for more information and realised that not only children but all of us seem to have popcorn brains now. With the abundance of information available online, we find ourselves wanting to read, watch, and listen to everything around us. We juggle numerous daily tasks, resulting in a lack of prioritisation. Do you experience the same?

When you hear the word "popcorn," what comes to mind? Probably a snack you enjoy at home, in a theatre, or at a shopping mall. But what if I tell you that in the digital age, your child’s mind is acting like popcorn? Would that worry you? Just like popcorn popping rapidly, our brains are constantly stimulated by online content.

In this blog, I specifically want to focus on children because they are the most affected. While people above 18 can often manage their screen time and consumption of information, children need guidance. We need to help them navigate age-appropriate content. So, let's first understand the term "Popcorn Brain."

What is Popcorn Brain?

In 2011, a researcher at the University of Washington, David Levy, first talked about the concept of "Popcorn Brain." He described it as "the way your screen-overloaded thoughts swiftly transition from one topic to another, resembling popcorn kernels rapidly popping into popcorn." This is not classified as a disorder or a disease. Clinical neuropsychologist Jessica McCarthy explains that "the phenomenon refers to a mental state caused by excessive screen time and overstimulation from the internet."

This is interesting because it’s not a disorder, but if we think critically, the attention span of humans is shrinking. What used to be measured in minutes has now come down to seconds. The average human attention span is about 8.25 seconds, meaning a human brain can only concentrate or focus for around 8 seconds. This is ironic because the human brain can focus much longer given stability and mindfulness.

This phenomenon can be worrying for children as it might harm their cognitive development. Overconsumption of screens is leading to anxiety issues among children, which also results in retention problems. However, this concern has solutions if addressed timely.

According to a survey conducted by Happinetz in 2023, 42% of children below the age of 12 spend up to 4 hours daily on screens. Another study conducted by Social & Media Matters in 2020 reveals that youth in India spend an average of 5 hours a day on the Internet, a number that will likely increase by 2024. The data clearly shows that our children are glued to devices, and the high consumption of content raises numerous concerns about their mental health, psychology, socialisation, and development.

What can we do?

While we discuss the issues arising from having a popcorn brain, it is equally important to consider solutions that can help mitigate these effects. Here are some practical strategies to help our children maintain a healthier relationship with technology:

Create your boundaries

Setting technology boundaries is essential. We must take proactive steps to prevent our children from developing anxiety issues and other mental health problems related to excessive screen time. Establishing clear and consistent limits helps children understand the importance of balance and self-regulation.

Set House Rules

Establishing house rules for device usage is crucial. These rules should be straightforward, fair, and consistently enforced. By setting boundaries, you help children understand the expectations and the reasons behind them.

Digital Detox

A digital detox involves taking a break from screens to recharge and reconnect with the real world. This practice can be incredibly beneficial for both children and adults. It helps reduce stress, improves mental clarity, and fosters better interpersonal relationships.


While we think about the future generations we also need to be mindful of the alternatives that can be looked upon when we talk about balanced online environments. ‘Popcorn Brain’ as a concept can also be witnessed in our daily routines so we should organise and plan our work. As parents and guardians, it is our responsibility to guide our children in navigating the digital world wisely. Let’s encourage our children to think critically and logically rather than spoon-feeding with digital devices. Engage with children in more offline activities, understand their interests and give them space to learn. This will not only protect their cognitive development but also enhance their overall mental health, social skills, and emotional well-being.

We at Social & Media Matters run programs that engage with parents and educators and talk about ‘Digital Parenting in the Digital Age.’ We understand the importance of having these crucial conversations with children for which we conduct workshops and training sessions pan India.
Copyright © 2024 Social Media Matters. All Rights Reserved.