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Screen time

Unraveling the Effects of Screen Time in Young Children

February 18, 2019, Author: Tamra Cater

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Screen time

We now live in a world full of social media, smart TVs, laptops, and tablets where screen time is almost inevitable. Things have changed so much since I was young, as I didn’t even get a cell phone until I was in college. And I’m not that terribly old. Now that I have a young daughter, I have to consider the effects of screen time on her well-being, so I took the time to look at some of the research relevant to this.

Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics

In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children between the ages of 2-5 be limited to one hour of high quality programming a day (In 2010, the recommendation was 2 hours or less). In addition, one problem with screen time is the lack of face-to-face interaction and how it can interfere with sleep. I can attest to the fact that screen time can interfere with sleep, as it did with my daughter. A few months after she turned 2, she finally got her toddler bed! I was happy to see her reach this milestone, but there was just one problem…. She wouldn’t stay in bed. She would get up and run down the hall. I had to lead her back to bed about 10 times. I was at a loss of what to do, so I allowed her to watch cartoons. This helped keep her in bed, but it didn’t help her sleep. We eventually had to stop allowing her to watch anything at bedtime, because it was keeping her up so late at night.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also suggests being a role model in terms of not staring at a screen for hours at a time. I was guilty of that for a time, so I now spend more time leaving the phone somewhere else when she is awake. Also, screen time limits opportunities for motor development, as she isn’t spending time doing anything but sitting there. Thus, play time at the park helped counteract this!

Research on Screen time with Young Children

In one study, the authors suggested that the recommendations that came from the American Academy of Pediatrics were informed by research conducted with older children (Przybylski & Weinstein, 2019). Thus, there hasn’t been a lot of research concerning the effects of screen time on young children’s well-being. Thus, the authors of this study conducted 19,957 phone interviews with parents of 2-5 year-old children. Specifically, they wanted to determine how screen time effects positive affect (positive emotions), attachment (emotional bond between parent and child), resilience, and curiosity.

Conclusions on the Effects of Screen-time with Young Children

The authors of the study found that the data did not support a relationship between the recommendations on screen time from the American Academy of Pediatrics and well-being. Those who fell below the recommended maximum amount of screen time showed slightly higher levels of resilience, but lower levels of positive affect. Generally, this study found no support for any harmful links between digital screen time and the psychological well-being of young children. However, the authors do mention that physical health could be negatively affected. This makes sense given that children are spending time being sedentary, rather than being more physically active.

Another study conducted with children between the ages of 2-5 showed that screen time was related to poorer progress on developmental measures such as communication skills, problem solving, and social interactions.  In particular, too much screen time was related to missed opportunities for learning and development.

What does this Mean for You?

1.Still consider limiting screen time. If you do allow screen time, think about whether or not you’d like for your children to finish other tasks first such as chores or homework.

2.Other activities are important to development (Playing at the park, painting, puzzles, reading). We always try to get our daughter out of the house by taking her to the park or going swimming in the summer.

3.Make screen time more interactive by asking questions and watching with your child.  This can further develop language and an emotional bond with your child.

4.If you are stuck on ideas that are screen free, find some here.

5.And here are more ideas from this book:

Screen free activities





6.Consider high quality TV programming when you do allow screen time. For example, some shows such as Dora the Explorer might help increase vocabulary. For more ideas on high quality programs, I would recommend taking a look at PBS Kids Programs

7.Model appropriate screen-time use. For example, try not to spend long periods of time watching TV or looking at your cell phone. And when your kids are around and are trying to engage with you, put the phone down and give them your full attention.

8.Consider having technology free zones. This may involve no phones or tablets during dinner, when driving, at restaurants, or in the bedroom.

Final Thoughts

More research is needed to determine the effects of screen time on young children. For now, I would consider using it in moderation. Also, focus on engaging your child in other learning activities that can enhance development. In addition, have a family media plan. For example, how long should children be allowed to engage in screen time, and what programs would be appropriate? Be sure that expectations on screen time are clear to everybody and be consistent with it.

What are your thoughts on the effects of screen time? Comment below!



American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018).

Przybylski, A. K., & Weinstein, N. (2019). Digital screen time limits and young children’s psychological well-being: Evidence from a population-based study. Child Development, 90, e56-e65.

Too much screen time can have lasting consequences for brain development. (2019).

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comments (7)

  • avatar image
    Very interesting read! Modeling appropriate screen time use seems very obvious but I never thought about it. After all children learn by watching adults.


    April 12, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      Thank you! Yes, so much learning comes from modeling!

      Tamra Cater

      April 17, 2019 Reply
  • avatar image
    This was so well written. I don't have kids yet, but I know so many of my mama friends have such a divide on screen time. We all agree we want our kids less attached to the screen and more involved with activities and families... but in terms of actually implementing rules for screen time- some times falls off. Thanks for sharing this! xoxox Amanda

    Amanda - Activated Living

    April 12, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      Thanks. Sometimes I have a hard time with it myself!

      Tamra Cater

      April 12, 2019 Reply
  • avatar image
    It is amazing the changes you see when you limit screen time! Great post!


    April 13, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      It is, definitely! My child's behavior changes quite a bit. Thank you!

      Tamra Cater

      April 13, 2019 Reply
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