Toddlers and Screen Time
by Theresa Nybo
Small children are fascinated with screens. And they learn so quickly how to use them. How many of us haven’t seen small toddlers take their parents phones, unlock them and begin using them? And how many tired parents haven’t found a short relief in sharing a phone or tablet with a cranky child. Screens can keep a child busy for quite a while. But are these the best babysitters for young children? Several recent studies, looking at the association between screen time in young children and their development, raise concerns.
One study looking at data from Canadian preschool children found that increased screen-time is associated with worse inattention problems.1 They found that children who had more than 2 hours per day screen time where much more likely to display ADHD like behavior, report inattention problems and report externalizing problems. Another study found an association between excessive screen time and delays in development.2
As media is developing so rapidly we don’t really know all the potential problems with young children using screens. However, experts have developed guidelines for media use and children.3
Children under two should avoid screens other than video chatting. Their young brains learn and remember more from live interaction than from a video. By age two children can enjoy music and stories digitally but will benefit most if watched together with a parent or caregiver who can help them understand what they are seeing. Between the ages of 2 – 5 children should limit their screen time to one hour per day. Additionally, in order to promote good sleep quality, no screens should be used for at least one hour before bedtime.
These guidelines are a maximum amount of screen time. We would recommend less screen time and more real-life interaction for optimal development.
1. Tamana, S.K., Ezeugwu, V., Chikuma, J., Lefebvre, D.L., Azad, M.B., et al. (2019) Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth cohort study. PLOS ONE 14(4): e0213995. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213995
2. Madigan, S., Browne, D., Racine, N., Mori, C., Tough, S. (2019) Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test. JAMA Pediatr.Published online January 28, 2019173(3):244–250. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056
3. American Academy of Pediatrics (2018) Children and Media Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics Retrieved from: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Children-and-Media-Tips.aspx