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The Great Screen Debate: A Look at Current Research

Nowadays, it’s very rare for a family to avoid screen time completely. For many parents, allowing their children to watch TV or use a device seems like the only way to accomplish certain tasks (e.g., cooking, cleaning, feeding a sibling, etc.) Moreover, our modern kids love to use technology. If there’s any such thing as a “sure thing” when it comes to children’s preferences, it’s likely a screen of some sort.

The bad news is, most research points to increasing amounts of screen time resulting in negative effects on children’s development. We know that children learn from interaction, and they learn better when interacting with the “real” 3-dimensional world. One recent study found that children who spent more time with handheld devices were more likely to have expressive speech and language delays. With each additional 30 minutes of screen time, the children were 49% more likely to have an expressive language delay.

This post is not meant to scold parents for allowing screen time or tell you how to parent in the age of digital media. We know that every family has different perspectives on the use of screens, and those views should be respected. However, when using technology with your children, here are some ways to promote interaction and downplay the negative effects:

  1. Pair apps with real life toys (e.g., a farm set with the Old MacDonald song app)

  2. Use as a tool for learning, not as entertainment

  3. Limit screen time

  • There’s an app for that! Screentime Labs offers a free and premium version of their app, which helps track and control children’s screen use. Check it out at https://screentimelabs.com/

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding screen use with children under 18 months altogether (except for Facetime or Skype to communicate with family members, of course)

  • After 18 months of age, the AAP recommends no more than 1 hour per day of screen time. They also recommend limiting the content to “high quality”

  1. Use as a reward/reinforcement for good behavior

  2. Designate “media-free times” for family (e.g., dinner, driving, etc.) and “media-free zones” in the house to further limit media consumption.


Radesky, J. S., J. Schumacher, and B. Zuckerman. “Mobile and Interactive Media Use by Young Children: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown.” PEDIATRICS 135, no. 1 (January 1, 2015): 1–3. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-2251.

Additional Resources

Guidelines for Screens in Children under 3:


When to introduce your child to a smartphone or tablet: