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Screen Time Can Help or Harm Youngsters. How Much is Too Much? What are Best Uses?


How Young is Too Young for Screen Time? When They Are on Devices, What Should They be Doing?

One of the things that I find disturbing about digital technology is the tendency to cavalierly put devices in the hands of very young children. I raised three kids and I get the desire to keep them busy so you can have a few moments to get something done or just take a breath. I let my kids watch TV or a movie and felt guilty about it. The 2019 equivalent seems to be giving very young kids an iPad or phone and letting them watch something, or better yet at least – interact with a game of some sort.

While the difference may not be vast, I feel like the portable always-on device in small hands is in some ways worse than sitting in front of the television. At the same time it can clearly be a more interactive process and more of a learning experience.

When I was a kid I was told my eyesight might be effected by sitting in front of the TV. When my kids were young I had no doubt that something more active was better for their health than sitting in front of the TV or DVD player. The same holds today for these toddlers with devices (not to mention the increased EMF they are often holding in their hands, and other possible concerns). There are definitely questions we need to be asking ourselves about when it is okay to expose young children to digital technology, how much is appropriate (in and out of class), and very importantly -  how it is being used.

In the world of education, this concern extends into the youngest grades – from pre-K up through grades 2 or 3 at least. Very young students need to learn to interact and socialize far more than they need be digitally fluent. I believe we need to be thoughtful and cautious about how much digital technology they are being exposed to and/or are required to use.


I spent a good deal of time this weekend perusing academic studies about this subject. There are certainly various studies that raise questions and concerns about multiple different forms of negative impact from letting young developing children spend too much time with digital devices.

Screen time ‘may harm toddlers'
“Letting a toddler spend lots of time using screens may delay their development of skills such as language and sociability, according to a large Canadian study”. The research tracked nearly 2,500 two-year-olds.

More screen time for toddlers is tied to poorer development a few years later, study says
Among toddlers, spending a lot of time staring at screens is linked with poorer performance on developmental screening tests later in childhood, according to a new study. The study found a direct association between screen time at ages 2 and 3 and development at 3 and 5.

Association of Screen Time Use and Language Development in Hispanic Toddlers: A Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Study
“Our findings support the mounting literature on the deleterious impacts of screen media in toddler’s language development. Guidance and alternatives to screen media use should be available to families in pediatric practices and early childhood centers.”

Media and Young Minds
“In summary, multiple developmental and health concerns continue to exist for young children using all forms of digital media to excess. Evidence is sufficient to recommend time limitations on digital media use for children 2 to 5 years to no more than 1 hour per day to allow children ample time to engage in other activities important to their health and development and to establish media viewing habits associated with lower risk of obesity later in life.”

Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case study
“Excessive digital media use by children and adolescents appears as a major factor which may hamper the formation of sound psychophysiological resilience.”

Obviously, what I have written and provided above is a very limited look at this, but I do feel there is support for my assertion that we need to be more hesitant about putting devices in the hands of young children. We clearly need to limit exposure. We also need to be more cognizant regarding how these devices are being used by these young children. Surely an app that requires thinking, interacting, making choices, etc., is a more positive and beneficial experience than simply watching a video (and probably being exposed to ads)?

If They Are Going to Use Devices, They Should be Using Interactive, Educational Apps

I have to imagine that most people would agree with the idea that it is better, on average, for a youngster to be doing something interactive and educational while using a digital device than simple consuming content. But is there research to support this?

I found this study, which supports the idea:

The effects of screen media content on young children’s executive functioning
“Results indicate that the type of screen intervention had a significant effect on executive functioning performance. Children were more likely to delay gratification after playing an educational app than after viewing a cartoon. In particular instances, children’s working memory improved after playing the educational app. These findings emphasize that, for young children’s executive functioning, interactivity and content may be more important factors to consider than simply “screen time.””

The following report states that passive screen time can be harmful for infants and toddlers, but that it is not harmful for most youngsters once they reach the ages of 2 or 3. This report digs into the qualitative differences of use and how this evolves as young children grow older.

Effective educational technologies by child developmental stage
“Where society once questioned whether or not technology should be incorporated into learning domains, research over the past several decades has definitively shown that introducing children to technology as a learning mechanism can have a positive effect on their cognitive, academic, and social development. The question in modern times has thus shifted from if technology should be introduced to children to how technology should be leveraged to provide the greatest educational benefits.”

I could spend days searching and scanning reports, but there is only so much time in each day! I think this is a good start digging into this, but wonder what readers might have to offer? Where do YOU stand on this? Do you know of reports or other resources that focus on this issue? Please share resources or your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!



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