What Screen Time and Screen Media Do To Your Child’s Brain and Sensory Processing Ability
(April 2 – Correction: Information on the AAP policies below has been edited. Thanks to the readers – Diana and P – who caught the error!)
It’s a scene we’re sure you’ve witnessed again and again:
A family is sitting in a restaurant having dinner. The four year old is clearly fed up with sitting, and starts to complain, jump on her seat or run around. But a few moments later, she’s quietly in her seat again, enabling her parents and older siblings to enjoy a peaceful meal and conversation for the next 30 minutes.
Her father handed her his iPhone.
It’s a scene we see repeated in doctors’ waiting rooms, supermarkets, public transportation… and while we entirely understand it, it also saddens us.
So many caring, well-meaning parents are unaware of the developmental damage caused to their children by exposure to screen time and screen media.
Televisions. Computer monitors. Tablets. Smartphones. Dumb phones. Children’s toy computers. Kindles. The Apple watch.
If it gives off electromagnetic radiation in the visual spectrum, it’s a screen.
In many ways screens have changed our lives for the better. In other ways, they’ve changed our lives and the lives of our children – and not necessarily for the better.
The original official policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (made in 1999 and reaffirmed in 2011) states that “pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television [or other media] viewing for children under the age of two years.” Children between 2 and 5 should be limited to “no more than 1 hour per day.”
In 2016 they issued a policy adjustment stating that pediatricians should discourage any media use under the age of 18 months, except for video-chatting (as often happens with far-away relatives). Between 18 and 24 months, if a parent wants to introduce screen media, then they should choose high-quality apps and use it together with their toddlers. (Although the policy indicates that the educational benefits for children under the age of 24 months are low, and come mainly from parent interaction with the child, and not from the media itself.)
While the original policy of the AAP called for children older than 5 to be viewing no more than 2 hours of media daily, the updated 2016 recommendations explains that in today’s world, when media is everywhere, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Families need to make themselves aware of the risks and benefits of media use, and create individualized plans for their children, including enough sleep and physical exercise.
Reasons given by the AAP – and other research studies – include associations with obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviors, less time spent in developmentally helpful interaction with parents and siblings, language delays and attention issues.
Reference is made to the potentially harmful effect of media exposure during the rapid brain development period of age 0-2, but most studies – and even the AAP policies – don’t delve into the details of the impact on your child’s brain.
We’d like to give you a peek behind the scenes, and show you what happens to the brain when it’s in the process of viewing screen media.
Screens Give Your Body the Blues
We’ve all been fooled by the “what color is white light?” question. Answer: all of them! Natural daylight, provided by our sun, is made up of all the colors of the visual spectrum, although there does tend to be a little more blue light emitted than the other colors.
The blue light of natural sunlight does some great things for our body. It boosts attention, reaction times and mood, and it suppresses melatonin (the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythms and makes you sleepy when it increases) so you can be awake and alert during your active hours.
That’s great for your body – in the daytime. When your body is supposed to be winding down for sleep, however, it’s another story.
Most of today’s devices are illuminated by LEDs, which have a much higher percentage of blue lightwaves than any other light source – natural or artificial. Here’s what “white” light is really made of in the following artificial light sources:
(The above image comes from the Molecular Vision Journal. The markup is our own.)
White LEDs are almost entirely blue light, combined with a chemical compound to make it look white.
Night-time exposure to LED-illuminated devices (most of the screens out there today: computers, tablets, phones, flat screen TVs, e-readers, video games) suppresses melatonin and disrupts the natural sleep cycle.
This Scientific American article describes the following study where volunteers spent several evenings reading for a prolonged period of time before a 10PM imposed bedtime. Some used printed books and some used e-readers. Those who used e-readers took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep and felt sleepier and less alert for hours after they woke up in the morning – even if they had gotten the same amount of sleep.
We repeatedly see sleep cycle issues in the children who come to our clinic. When we probe, we almost inevitably hear that they’re playing video games, using social media or watching TV for an extended period before they go to bed. Sleep cycle disruptions are a significant contributor to ADHD and other mood and behavioral issues.
One of the first things we work with these parents and children on is significantly reducing screen time before bed. Blue light – it’s not for night!
Find out more about the other ways sleep issues can impact your child’s behavior!
Get access to the “Nutrition, Sleep and Behavior” session recording of our acclaimed “Get to the Root” Summit!
Okay, fine, you might be saying. I’ll curtail the screens at night, and let my children play their video games, use the computer and watch TV in the afternoon.
We wish it were that simple.
If your child’s screen use is focused on reading chapter books off a Kindle or typing in a word processing program, no problem. (Again, as long as it’s not at night when the blue wavelengths in the white LEDs will impact sleep patterns.)
But who among our kids spends his primary media time doing that? Our kids are playing fast-paced video games, watching cartoons and TV shows with plenty of action and jumping from photo to chat to status update on social media.
The rapid-fire changes that happen in most screen activities, from video games to recorded entertainment to social media updates, affect two parts of the brain:
- the visual processing system
- the vestibular system
The Eyes Have It
Let’s discuss the visual processing system first.
The faster the changes in the sensory information you’re taking in, the faster your brain needs to process it in order to keep up.
If the pace required is so fast it exceeds your brain’s threshold, you may experience sensory overload. That’s the “STOP! TOO MUCH! I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!” feeling – the one we sometimes get when we’re trying to cook dinner AND our baby is screaming and smelling like a horrendously dirty diaper AND our 3 year old is yanking on our shirt hem and whining he’s hungry AND our 6 year old is shoving a drawing in front of our eyes and yelling, “Look, Mom! Look at it!”
Too much to process. Shut down. Good night. (Well, we wish. We parents usually have to recover pretty fast in situations like that.)
The rapid-fire changes on typical screen entertainment are much faster than the typical visual changes of ordinary, unscreened life – the visual changes that our brain has been wired over the millennia to deal with.
Yet these rapid changes don’t often cause perceptible visual sensory overload. They usually come in just under the threshold. The child can keep up with the processing, but their brain is working super-fast to do so.
Often parents of children with ADD/ADHD diagnoses will tell us, puzzled, “I don’t understand. My child has trouble focusing on most things, but when it comes to TV or video games, I can’t get him to stop. I can wave my hand in front of his face, touch him or say his name loudly and it’s like I’m not there. He seems super-focused!”
And he is. Children (especially with ADHD) often get into a state of hyper-focus, because their brain is so super-busy processing all the fast-changing visual information.
This hyper-focus affects children more than adults (and in younger children more than older children) because the visual system itself is still developing, so the younger a child is, the more they have to focus in order to deal with all the information coming in.
Eventually you pull them away from the screen. And pandemonium breaks loose.
If they were super-focused before, they are now super-UNfocused. They’re hyper. They’re acting out. They’re in an awful mood.
Coming off the Visual Fast-Track
Your child’s brain was in super-fast, super-busy mode, processing all that visual stimuli. Suddenly all that visual stimuli stops. There’s nothing left to process.
But the brain is still in super-fast, “hyper” mode. Until it readjusts to real life and a normal pace (which takes time), your child will be bouncing off the walls in an unconscious attempt to find stimuli moving at the artificially fast pace of his brain.
That’s not all.
The visual system is closely linked to the vestibular system – the sensory system that controls balance and your perception of where your body is in space. The vestibular system also has a significant impact on mood. The perception of linear acceleration is calming (as most of us have experienced when rocking, swinging, walking or driving a cranky baby to sleep) and the perceptional of rotational acceleration is arousing.
When your child’s visual system was super-busy processing, it locked up the vestibular system, putting mood on an artificially even keel. Remember your child’s lack of response when you waved your hand in front of his face? He wasn’t in a bad mood; he wasn’t in a good mood; he was in NO mood.
Now his vestibular system has been released from its freeze, and it’s having just as hard a time readjusting. Mood swings, anyone?
Let’s take a look at how to get your child from screen time back to real life without crashes and meltdowns.
Jump My Sillies Out
When you end your child’s screen time, don’t just let her chill out. Because she WON’T be chilling out. She’ll be jumping out of her skin.
To reset the pace of her body and brain, jump her back INTO her skin. Use the vestibular system. Get your child moving. Jump, swing, run around. The linear acceleration will reset the vestibular system and calm the entire body.
This is even if your child has had “active” screen time, like working out with a Wii or playing Pokemon Go or some other augmented reality game. They may be getting exercise, but they’re also overstimulating their visual processing system. The screen offsets the vestibular benefit of the movement, so you’ll still need some “unplugged” movement in order to reset the vestibular system and get the body back on track.
Using physical activity is a good short-term technique to reset the vestibular and visual system and get your child back into normally-paced life more smoothly.
As a long-term strategy, it leaves much to be desired.
As we mentioned above, a child’s visual processing system is still significantly developing before the age of 2, and final development isn’t reached until 8 or 9 years old. It’s still unclear exactly what the effects of media exposure with its rapid-fire changes are for a developing system.
There is a concern, however, that repeated incidents of super-busy processing during stages of development could cause permanent changes in the processing pace that the brain seeks. Your two-year old could potentially grow up feeling “comfortable” in the super-fast pace of screen media stimulation and uncomfortable in the normal pace of everyday life.
Her performance might be high in gaming and internet information processing, but what about performance in low-tech activities such as building relationships? Parenting? Achieving greatness at anything, from sports to music to business?
These true, satisfying achievements happen only at the pace of the natural world, not at the artificially accelerated pace of the screened world. They require focus, dedication, persistence and patience – even when the going seems slow, frustrating and boring in the moment.
Set Your Child Up for Success
We appreciate how much parents want to give their child the tools and resources to achieve the most they can.
That’s why it pains us. Because while the parent thinks they’re doing something positive – or at least neutral – for their child by setting them in front of screen media, they’re actually interfering with the child’s natural, healthy development. The younger the child is, the greater the interference and future consequences.
Why set a child up for issues and limitations that may or may not be conquerable?
Why put a child on track for difficulties in life from age 2?
We work all the time with children to enable them to overcome behavioral and emotional limitations caused by processing issues, so they can have a happy, functioning life full of achievement and satisfaction.
You, as a parent, have an even more powerful role to play. You can give your child the best shot at that life from the outset, and minimize the chances of needing external intervention.
As a caring, dedicated parent, we know you want it.
And you can do it.
Even if you want to reduce screen time, the process can be a challenge, as children usually object and (depending on the effect the screen media has on that particular child) may act out. Here is Part 2 of this article: Why It’s So Hard to Feel Like You’re a Good Parent When It Comes to Screen Time… and What You Can Do About It – dealing with practical and emotional strategies for managing and reducing screen time in a healthy way for your child – and you!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This is a well written article explaining the true dangers of overuse of screen time during childhood development. I am hoping it will go viral. It pains me to watch children being “digitally sedated” so often https://www.growingplay.com/2016/04/stop-digitally-sedating-your-kids/! It is not children who are changing it is parenting in this fast paced world that keeps changing. We really need to take the time to step back and reevaluate our hectic lives because children are suffering from it. And it is super hard to do as a parent!
LOVE your quote “These true, satisfying achievements happen only at the pace of the natural world, not at the artificially accelerated pace of the screened world. They require focus, dedication, persistence and patience – even when the going seems slow, frustrating and boring in the moment.” I can’t wait to read part 2. Keep up the good work!
Great info, and a great read. I totally agree. But before you make a mountain out of a mole hill consider that you mentioned “…focus, dedication, persistence, and patience…” in your closing statements, while the first three are abundantly present in digital media. Furthermore you are relying on the thought that everyone has accepted that technology cannot teach patience. Ideally we will combine the ideals of natural living with the added benefits of using technology while addressing the challenges and side affects associated with the use of ‘screens’. I feel confident that it’s not the screens that are trying to not spend time with their offspring.
You make some very good points, James. Thanks for contributing your thoughts!
I am a parent in denial. I have a 7yr old son who loves minecraft. He started about a few months ago and I’ve even re-inforced it by buying a new IPAD for him to prevent the system from slowing his creative play down. But like most parents, we are not aware of the longterm effects of being exposed to this type of media. It saves use headaches in restaurants yes but if you find yourself playing with your phone while your kid is on the ipad, something is fundamentally missing there. My instincts are kicking in in that I need to cut back on his usage. I started just a few days ago stating to him specifically that we will be limiting his IPAD use because it is not healthy for him. Anything in excess is not healthy for anyone, I told him. He just nods and plays on. Next step after planting this mental seed is implementing it. Typically, he asks for his ipad after coming home from school. Lately, my wife has been doing homework with him immediately after school, prior to ipad use. Seems to be working better. This article however mentions the effect of blue light during the time of winding down. We see him tossing and turning a lot prior to actually falling asleep prior to his “ipad” craze. We always thought that his mind is just racing a zillion miles an hour, just like any other parent would think of their brilliant prodigies. Now I wonder how his sleeping would get better without his IPAD usage after brushing his teeth. This, I thank the author(s) of this great article. Anyways, I am still in denial that his minecraft skills are good for him in the long run but I need to catch my son before he falls even deeper into this trap. This article has help me realize it better.
It certainly doesn’t sound like you’re in denial! It sounds like you’re a growing individual who is open to hearing new ideas – even if they might be uncomfortable. Not everyone can do that!
We think you’re on the right track with your thoughts about your son, the plans you’ve already started to implement (like doing homework first) and the plans you’re thinking about implementing (reducing iPad usage in general, especially before sleep).
We’d certainly recommend reducing time gradually (as we talk about in the practical Part 2 of this article) – and helping him find quality activities to do that develop other physical, emotional and intellectual skills of his.
We wish you much success – and we’re pretty sure you’ll find it! 🙂
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
It’s very humbling to see a parent admit to a sort of defeat and share how it feels being at your wits end and trying to change. Every parent I meet seems to be so defensive these days and it really is refreshing to see someone like you humanize yourself. You’re doing a divine job- the fact that you notice this and are making changes is a HUGE success in my book. I think you are no longer in denial- you are in recovery. You’re on the right path! I commend you and applaud you!
Tell that to my toddler who outgrew an autism diagnosis just by eliminating screens. It is clear that even if screen interaction might have some good stuff, that stuff can be better developed in the real life, without the risks and drawbacks.
Thankyou for sharing! This is very encouraging. My 3-ywar old daughter developed ASD symptoms since she was 2 and now we are in the no-screen policy since 3 months. We for sure see an improvement but not full recovery. We are doing a full intervantion at a specialist center but was wondering what your experience was?
Lol. that’s wrong.. What probably happen is that a parent found out that his son had vision problem’s and his or her son watched tv alot. So she though his or her vision problem’s was from the tv.
Thank you so much for reading the post and sharing your kind words and your own insights! We love the post you shared, and the term “digital sedation” is so apt. The knee-jerk reaction of human nature is try to find a quick way out of uncomfortable situations. And as you say in your post, parenting is a challenge and can often be uncomfortable and tough. That’s where the deepest rewards lie, just like anything worthwhile in life, but it’s very hard to see it in the moment. It takes a lot of awareness and willpower to make handing technology to a child a conscious, thought-out action instead of a default one.
We’d love for the message to reach more people, so please do share it. And we’re also looking forward to publishing part 2, to give parents more practical tools and direction, so they CAN reap those rewards. 🙂
UPDATE: Part 2 is here! Click here to read: How to Manage Screen Time for Kids: Healthy, Practical Guidelines for Parents.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
Good article..doesn’t even touch the issue of how screen time adversely effects visual field development, cervical/thoracic alignment, diminished fm skill development (swiping skills will only get a child so far!!) We have been preaching our concerns for years re: iphones/ipads/laptops for toddlers to 5 yo..yes, our children will need to be proficient in technology, but parents…get off YOUR phone/off your laptop, get outside/get on the floor and PLAY with your child..and teach them how to play without you and a device!! What ever happened to bringing the “bag” we used to carry( as a parent to appts, restaurants, etc) that had books, small toys, bubbles, coloring book, crayons, etc….bring back the busy bag!!!
Thanks for your comment, Mary Lynne! All great points about the developmental impact of screen media and the many opportunities we have to teach our children other skills that will stand them in good stead in life.
Ooh I need to pack one of those.
We used to watch TV all day long with my kids, but about 2 years ago, we cut back dramatically.
I have not regretted it!
My kids actually play with their toys, sit nicely at restaurants (generally, they have their bad days like all of us), and play by themselves with blocks or playdoh or other things. It is really amazing the difference it makes!
Amazing article! Thank you. I always knew it instinctively but never knew the reasons why. You guys are amazing! So grateful for what you have done with our family. You have changed the entire feeling and dynamic in our home with your approach. Wishing you continued success.
Thank you so much! It’s wonderful to work with people like you who are so committed to the health and future success of their children. May you see much joy from your whole family – now and as they continue to grow!
Amy and Evelyn
I’m a new parent who works from home, my wife works out of the home, my little girl is 6 months old, my little girl watches Sesame Street episodes in a loop, she’s on the floor rolling and also watching the TV.
I just figured that the stimulation she gets from an educational program has to be better than nothing, and as much as i’d like to activate and play with my little darling all day- supporting our family takes a front seat.
Sure it sounds like my priority is work and not my daughter- but i work for her and i doubt she’ll get much stimulation if we all lived under a bridge and i wouldn’t be able to pay for her school.
I spend every moment i can bonding with her and so does my wife- but i figured that those moments where i cannot spend with her (as many parents) maybe an educational TV show would be preferable to her staring at the wall or playing on the floor with her dolls. am i wrong?
We think your little daughter is fortunate to have you as her father. Your love and desire to provide for her – both physically and emotionally – come across very clearly.
Educational TV has its place, but actually, at your daughter’s age, one of the most educational things for kids is interaction with the world around them. While it may look not-so-stimulating to us as adults (I’m sure that I personally would be bored if I sat on the floor with a doll for an hour ;), little children’s brains and bodies are developing, processing and appreciating so many aspects of the world they have just come to live in.
Playing on the floor with dolls is great for six month olds. Or playing with any other toy. Or playing with a pot lid – or a cardboard box. Or rolling a can of soup. The more real-world shapes and textures you can let her experience, the better. (And you don’t have to go out and buy any of these things – just open your bedroom or kitchen closet.)
You could also put on music in the background sometimes while she’s playing – like nursery rhymes and other kids’ songs.
That said, don’t feel pressured to stop her Sesame Street right away or all at once. That usually just leads to overwhelm – either an overwhelmed parent, an overwhelmed child, or both. It’s important for your daughter’s well-being that any changes you make are comfortable and relaxed – for YOU.
Try to substitute a little bit of screen time with unstructured play time. Then you can move on to more. In our upcoming part 2 of this post, we’ll be going more into the practical aspect of children and screen time – and how to make changes in a way that’s healthy for your family.
So, stay tuned! 🙂
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
It sounds like you are genuinely doing the best you can to keep your daughter positively engaged while you keep up with the heavy responsibilities of maintaining your home physically and financially. I assure you that a child will not sit and stare at the wall in the absence of a television programme. She will activate her sense of imagination and creation. Doll play is also very good for the development of self soothing and imagination. I do not intend to make you feel guilty for your choices when it seems a bit of TV is the only way to keep her happy and your day productive. But, be sure to nurture her ability to play and engage herself amongst interactive toys outside of the screen. In fact, kids tend to be more demanding and fussy when over exposed to screens. She’s still very young, but you’ll be happy when she reaches toddler age and is happy by herself playing blocks and doodling.
You might be surprised at how simple things can entertain children! My son’s favourite toy right now is an empty sour cream container with a block in it. He loves shaking it, opening and closing it, and taking the block in and out. He’s 14 months. There’s also evidence that young children can’t understand what they’re seeing on tv, and need interaction with real objects and people. So they’re not taking in the educational program, they’re just staring at flashy lights. Yes, give your child dolls to play with and at first she’ll be experiencing new textures, and later on she’ll be doing pretend play and developing her parenting skills from a young age!
Yes. Before tv, both parents had to work long and hard. Children found fun and had chores. If the EDs are available, they will choose those…EVERYtime. If they aren’t available, kids will find things to do. Playing with her dolls on the floor is awesome. You also HAVE to interact with her on a regular basis. Ppl dont seem to understand that childcare still needs to happen if mom or dad work at home. You may need a sitter to come in the morning after breakfast till naptime. Then you can take over after nap till mom comes home. You can also work later while mom cares for her in the evening since she didn’t see her all day. Both parents working and a baby either means baby doesn’t see either parent all day or sees them one at a time thruout the day and evening.
The tv or other ED does not fulfill childcare. Children still need care.
If you can’t afford to work and pay a sitter, welcome to the real world. Generally, tho, ppl devalue childcare so much they’re willing to work for extremely unfair wages. You can probably find someone to sit at least parttime. Anyone is better than an ED, as long as they’re interacting with the baby consistently and regularly. And there’s nothing an ED can teach a child under 12 that just about anyone can’t teach them. A child under 5, absolutely nothing that can be BETTER taught in the real world by a warm human. So don’t let the “edge up” idea get any space in your brain. Concerned people who talk to and work with the children thruout the day are the edge that successful children have, not EDs.
Thank you for this great article! I’m surprised, however, that you don’t mention Sensory Processing Disorder. My kids work for their screen time by doing core exercises and still have screen time extremely limited . We bring Uno and other card games to restaurants to keep entertained while waiting. I hear LOTS of adults wonder why they can’t sleep yet they are the ones who are on screens all day long, posting on Facebook and working or watching TV right up until they expect to sleep. Education is essential, almost critical in this area. Thanks again!
We’re so happy that the article resonated with you – and we’re impressed by your understanding and investment in raising healthy, developed children. (Uno at the restaurant is a great idea. 🙂
We didn’t touch on Sensory Processing Disorder because this post was really the background, giving information so parents can understand what the issues are.
The upcoming Part 2 will deal with the practical aspects: how to deal with screen time and reducing screen time in multiple different scenarios. Reducing screen time for a child without any developmental issues is one thing, but reducing screen time for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder is another (because of the way their bodies perceive the screen-based stimulation) and will need to be dealt with differently.
Part 2 is intended to help parents reduce screen time to appropriate levels, but in a way that’s real, graduated, healthy (both for the child and for the parent) and will last.
We look forward to seeing you in Part 2! 🙂
Amy and Evelyn
How will I know when PT.2 comes out? Thanks!
Part 2 is out! You can find it right here: How to Manage Screen Time for Kids: Healthy, Practical Guidelines for Parents
We hope it’s helpful, and we’re happy to hear any of your questions or comments.
Amy and Evelyn
Part 2 has come out, and you can find it here: //handsonotrehab.com/screen-time-kids-guidelines/. We hope you find it helpful!
If you’re going to write an article and site AAP date to scare parents, at least use updated information. In October 2016 they released new guidelines that go along with modern times. These new guidelines just prove how wrong the AAP has been for years
Even know the AAP continues to provide biased and one-sided coverage of a lot of issues related to media effects, and continues to rely on authors with potential conflicts of interest to write their policy statements.
Also, with screens being used all day everyday in every school, good luck keeping your children screen free. Just do your research, use your own common sense, and interact with your children.
Thanks for your comment and your pointing out our omission. We’ve edited the article above to reflect the updated policies.
We would respectfully disagree, however, with your analysis of the new AAP recommendations. Guidelines for 0-5 (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591) haven’t really changed. The difference is in saying “don’t discourage” video-chatting for under age 18 months, and “For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best.” It doesn’t say that a parent SHOULD introduce digital media, just that the pediatrician doesn’t have to discourage them, but should rather guide them to the best choices possible.
If one reads through the entire policy as what it says regarding 0-2, there doesn’t appear to be any proven benefit of media to that age. There is a reality: people video-chat with relatives. Apps are marketed to ages 18-24 months and parents are using them.
Any new guidelines are an attempt to deal with a reality, not a stamp of approval on the reality. As the policy says, “In summary, for children younger than 2 years, evidence for benefits of media is still limited, adult interaction with the child during media use is crucial, and there continues to be evidence of harm from excessive digital media use, as described later in this statement.”
In regards to older children, you are correct: the policy HAS changed (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2592). Children are “growing up immersed in media” and in an” era of highly personalized media use experiences,” and so instead of one-size-fits-all number of hours, the new recommendation is personalized media plans, decided upon by the family.
However, if one reads through the policy, the benefits of screen media (especially for the younger end of the spectrum, before adolescence) are MUCH more limited than the risks.
The AAP original 2 hour recommendation was primarily based on correlations concerning obesity (which, they modify in the present recommendations, has been restricted by newer studies to ages 4-9 and for children with a TV in their bedroom). The AAP doesn’t go into influence on brain development or sensory processing abilities. That’s what we were trying to cover in this article.
As the AAP currently recommends to pediatricians, “Work with families and schools to promote understanding of the benefits and risks of media.” Our goal here was to open up discussion of one of the under-discussed risks of media use.
Thanks for your input and insight, Diana, and we’d be very happy to hear your other ideas and continue the discussion, so parents can have a complete picture – both of the benefits and of the risks – and make wise decisions for their families.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
I am extremely concerned about screen use in schools but that’s not the only thing in schools to worry about lol It’s becoming a definite other reason why we homeschool tho.
When friends come over, their phns go in their coat pockets. I tell them if they want to play on their phones, they can come back when they want to play with my kids. No tablets are allowed over. I only allow the phones in the house so parents can helicopter their kids.
My house is fun, we even do work together with the friends, gasp. So kids want to come over.
Common sense says, keep EDs away from kids. My kids do use my laptop for writing stories, once they’ve gotten good cursive handwriting skills. And occasional game time. But never to keep them busy, esp in offices, etc. They need to know how to be quiet even if “bored”. Reading’s always a good cure for that lol
This seems like scare tactics to me too. Each child/situation is different. My son is 9 and has had heaps of screentime since birth, as well as one-on-one interaction. He is very coordinated, a star at soccer playing several years above his age level, and gets excellent results at school. Myth busted!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. We agree that each child and situation is different, and we’re glad that your son is so successful. That said, it pays to be aware of hazards when there are strong potential (although agreed, certainly not inevitable) consequences. If a child rarely brushes their teeth, it’s possible that they’ll never get cavities, due to the strong genetic component of tooth health. Nevertheless (especially not knowing from the outset their genetic tendencies), we try to have all our children be conscientious about brushing their teeth, because it’s a reasonable effort to make for health. If a child never washes their hands after using the bathroom, it’s possible they and the others around them won’t get sick, because they might have very strong immune systems. Nevertheless, we teach children to always wash their hands, because that will contribute to health for most people out there.
In the same way, there are likely consequences to screentime, especially when it exceeds certain thresholds. Does that mean every child will be affected – or affected the same way? No. But it’s a wise thing to be aware of and a reasonable area to put effort into.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
I think that we all as parents know or feel when something is not ok or it’s wrong. Follow your instincts I’d say.
Here is a great explanation to that feeling when we see a child conectes to a screen and passive to the real world. Now that we know it, then it would be neglectibe to continue exposing our children to screens that we know are compromising vestibular, sensory systems and socio emotional interactions. Spread the word!
Thank you for this great educating article. Very positive contribution to one of the biggest issues we are dealing with nowadays.
My little is 19 months now and started watching TV almost a year ago. She started out watching Mother Goose and now watches mostly Sofia and Dave and Ava on youtube. We don’t have cable so she’s limited to a PBS app, Netflix and youtube. She does have her own tablet, which is used mostly for long days out in public. There are times I feel that we use too much screen time but when it is the only thing that will calm her and keep her attention when I am not able to fully engage, then so be it. I’m interested to know more of the long term consequences. The general public never understands how some things affect the neural network (like marijuana use). You noted that a child that gets too much screen time will likely be comfortable in a fast pace setting. Well, that’s me and we didn’t have TV when I was really little. I already expect my child to need extra stimulation especially considering every day care worker has been telling me how smart she is since she was 6 months old. She’s always been more advanced than the other children her age. She doesn’t have trouble disengaging from the screen when we are at home, probably because she’s often moving at the same time. She likes to dance and will only watch shows with music. My long term concern is school…I was always bored and I am worried that school will not keep up with her
This is such an eye-opening article. I am going to try to be more careful about limiting my son’s TV time. Thank you for putting this together.
Hi, Just wanted to make sure you were aware that in 2016 the AAP guidelines were revised again. They are generally the same, but I think they take into account how everyone should use their judgement about media. There is much more to consider than just a certain number of hours per day. It’s way more about how it’s being used and the quality than just the quantity. I think refocusing on this helps keep this from being another topic on which to “mom shame”.
Thanks, P, for pointing that out. We did update the article, and there’s an in-depth discussion of the differences and what they mean in the comments above.
One of the critical points (mentioned by the AAP), especially when you as a parent are trying to make the best decisions for your family on an individual basis and not using a one-size-fits-all “rule”, is being aware of all the risks and the benefits involved.
That was the intent of this article – to make people aware of this particular, under-discussed area of risk. In part 2 we’ll get to some practical recommendations. This part was really just about the awareness.
And your point about “mom shame” is really important here, because if you ARE aware of the risks and benefits, and you’re making the best decision you can for your family in the light of your family’s reality, then there really shouldn’t be any room for shame or guilt.
But the prerequisite for that is that you actually do know enough to make a wise decision, and that you’re being honest enough with yourself to make a wise decision.
But if you’ve done that, and made a decision, then you made the best choice you could – feel GOOD about it!
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
Love the article! Lots of great information. I would love one written for teachers and administrators. My 5 year olds were issued iPad’s at the beginning of the school year. They have maxed out on the “two hours a day” before they even get home! At age 11 my older daughter is required to view her textbooks online on her iPad. It makes me crazy but if they stop giving paper books my hands are tied!
Thanks for your kind words! It’s true – media is SO pervasive in today’s day and age, and as a parent (who isn’t in control of what happens in the schools) there is only so much you can do about it.
That is one reason why the AAP did update that “two hour a day” guideline a few months ago (it was an omission from the original article – it’s since been updated to reflect the current recommendations): there’s so much out there’s that’s almost “mandatory” that you as the parent have to use a lot of wisdom and awareness to plan out screen time for your child at times when you are making the decisions.
This article was more of the theory and awareness, and next article we’ll discuss the practical aspect of what TO do when you want to reduce screen time, but there are all these challenges.
Best of luck!
Amy and Evelyn
I had a few questions about this article. You mention that sleep interruptions are a contributor to ADHD, but the link given for that information is about the common sleep problems that people with ADHD experience and how to manage them. Are you saying that sleep problems affect the symptoms of ADHD or are you trying to say that they are a cause of ADHD?
Also, what are you referencing in the sections about sensory processing and hyperfocusing? I’m interested to learn more about that and was wondering if you can provide a few articles. I understand that children, especially those with ADHD can hyperfocus on something, but I didn’t know that using exercise to calm them down afterwards may lessen some of the hyperness that usually follows.
I would be interested in this info too. Thanks.
Thanks for the questions!
The article linked in the post started out about sleep problems experienced by people with ADHD , but further on it mentions how “sleep disorders… may result in ADHD-like symptoms” and advises “As part of a multimodal treatment plan for patients with ADHD, special attention needs to be given to interventions that focus on improving sleep and bedtime behavior.” If you can improve sleep issues, often the symptoms of ADHD will improve.
As to your question about hyperfocus and sensory processing, it’s a very broad topic and comes out of a range of sources covering different aspects of the issue. We plan to work on an article in the near future delving into hyperfocus, sensory processing and ADHD, where we’ll organize all the sources and studies. So stay tuned! 🙂
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
This is a very informative article and clearly explains the dangers of allowing too much screen time. I was totally unaware of the LED’s in electronic devices and blue light suppressing melatonin. I cover all electronic devices in bedrooms with scarves etc to block out those little lights from phones, alarm clock etc. It really makes a difference. I do recall watching cartoons myself as a young child back in the 1960’s and they were visually slower paced than current cartoons for children. Maybe program makers need to address this if it is causing widespread problems for so many children around the world.
Great article! I’m a retired school psychologist; Your well written and easy to understand information is idealic for use when interpreting test results to parents. Such a simplified way to explain processing difficulties to both teachers and parents.
This is a wonderful training that all school personnel should have! Keep up the excellent work and sharing of information.
Thank you both for being so dedicated to the successful development of chidren.
Thank you so much, RaeRae. We’re happy that you felt it was clear and helpful!
Very informative article, thank you for sharing. I’ll pass this onto my son who asked this question just the other day, in relation to my brand new grand daughter.
Congratulations on your new granddaughter – and thanks for reading and passing it on!
Great article!!! When my son was 1 year old I thought I could be able to stimulate him better with educational apps, thankfully I soon realized there’s nothing better than taking time to teach new things to your children in person. Now my son only has permission to watch TV on Weekends and to play on my phone for no more than 15 min. Also on weekends. He is a happy boy and my little girl is also like that, they don’t need to be stimulated by devices. When we are at a place eating something or at the doctor I usually take something for them to paint or legos to build in a small case and they are just fine. Parents only need to drive their childrens energy towards positive activities and play. I’m sharing this article to all my friends!! Thanks for the info!!
Thank you so much for reading and for your appreciation and insight, Alison! It’s wonderful that you’re able to use your creativity and energy to direct your children to positive, healthy activities.
Thank you for the informative article. I have several questions:
1) You discusse the negative effects of blue light from LED screens on sleep quality. Is this specifically from staring at LEDs, or is general exposure to LED light before bed similarly harmful? I ask because just yesterday I was in a lighting store as part of our home renovations, and it seems that most of the newer light fixtures these days are designed for LED bulbs. Do I need to be concerned about having lights like that in my home?
2) You mention Kindles/e-readers several times in the general category of electronic screens. Can I assume that you are referring to Kindle Fire or other tablet-like e-readers, and not to the basic kind that use e-ink? From what I have understood, the e-ink screens, most of which are not backlit, use completely different technology and are perceived by the eye as any other printed page, not as a “screen”. I’d appreciate some clarification.
3) You speak about fast-moving screen action which throws the vestibular system out of balance. I understand that in the context of video games, cartoons, action movies, and interactive apps in which the user is flipping back and forth a lot. But do you really think videos of people (or, say, muppets) interacting in a normal everyday fashion has the same effect? Aside from the blue light, what’s the difference between witnessing a regular conversation in real life or on a screen?
Fantastic questions, Alisha!
Let’s take them one by one:
1) Yes, any white LED light will have a higher proportion of blue wavelengths and therefore be more likely to disrupt the sleep cycle. I imagine in your home renovations research, you probably saw manufacturers offering options like dimmer switches (pretty common), or the ability to change the “warmth” of the light over the course of the day (not so common). There are options out there for lightbulbs that block blue wavelengths and some DIY instructions. (This isn’t approval for any particular product or method – just to give examples.)
All this said, the impact of staring at blue-light emitting devices is obviously going to be greater than seeing reflected light (from a lightbulb that’s above you, behind you, etc.)
You do need to be realistic with the options out there (and how they fit into your budget), but if you have the option when you’re choosing new lights, it’s certainly worth taking this into account. (Even if you do end up getting white LEDs, your awareness will help you remember to dim them at night when possible. That makes a difference.)
2) Yes, the references to Kindles (in relation to blue light emission and sleep) were to backlit Kindles. To a lesser extent, it would be true for Kindles using e-ink that have front-, reflective lighting built in – but that shouldn’t be significantly different than using an LED overhead light to read a book.
3) There IS no difference, visual processing-wise, between watching a real-life conversation and watching a “talking heads” video. (We do imagine muppets are probably more interesting to watch than people, although we’ve never seen a real-life muppet conversation 😉 ). So if that’s what your child is watching, it shouldn’t affect him and his sensory systems more than viewing a real-life situation.
The issue is that media like that is the vast MINORITY of media out there – especially for children. (Adults may watch political debates and panel discussions. That’s not usual fare for kids’ programming.) Even when the context is that of a conversation, it rarely stays two talking heads for long. The screen changes, the viewpoint changes, other elements of action are added in… it ends up having more visual stimuli than the average real-life scene.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
2) I checked out the study referenced, and for their “LE-eBook” they used *iPads*.
In my mind that’s not an eReader/eBook. That’s a *tablet*, that you happen to be reading a book on.
Nobody seems to have checked the self-lit kindles, but it’s likely to be much better than a fully-illuminated iPad as the lighting is much softer.
Your question 3 made me think about the difference in Sesame Street over the years. I’m 42 and when I was a kid Sesame Street seemed slower paced. Lots more time on one screenshot of muppets talking and people and singing and all that. Recently I was somewhere and Sesame Street was on and I was appalled at how much it was bouncing around from screen shot to screen shot, scene to scene, however you want to explain it.
It was SOOOO much faster paced than when I was a kid. I know that’s not what you were asking about but it just made me think of it! Your question was a good one by the way!!!!
Love this article!! Is there a way I can get a printer friendly copy? I am always educating parents on decreasing screentime and this would really help parents understand!
So glad you connected with the article! We’d be happy to send you a printer-friendly copy. Just email us at email@example.com – and we’ll get it to you.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
Thank you for writing this article.
Please know that devices, unless they are in airplane mode or turned off, are continuously emitting wireless radiation.
Children, because their bodies are developing, skulls thinner, are particularly vulnerable to these exposures.
Decades of science, studies numbering in the thousands attest to the bio hazards of microwave radiation.
In 2015, 200+ international scientists and engineers made an appeal to the U.N. and World Health Organization, terming our exposure to wireless radiation a \”public health crisis\”, damaging DNA, and leading to premature death.
That Appeal is here: https://emfscientist.org
Ed Tech in schools demands the use of devices \”anytime, anyplace, anywhere\”. There is a complete disconnect of what is occurring in schools and recognition of the proven biological hazards. The children, youth, and teachers are getting sick in the school environment. If any technology is to be used, the facts dictate that it be wired.
Diane Hickey, Co-founder
National Association For Children and Safe Technology
Thank you for sharing, Diane!
Great article. With our 3 year old, he only watched Baby Einstein with me occasionally. That was it. Then our twins came along when he was only 19 months. I’ll admit that I have used the tv WAY more than I should, but the 3 under 2 club was ROUGH, and the now 3 under 4 club is still rough. I’m hoping to do a better job of limiting screen time.
Definitely! The more children in the home, the more challenging the task. Good luck in your efforts!
Hello, thank you for your amazing article! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! My husband sent it to me to read because our daughters 4 y.o and 11 months old has ZERO screen time and I was worried that perhaps the 4 y.o is missing on educational games or so. So, he sent me the artickle to assure me that we are doing the right thing. In fact , she cannot be in front of the cartoon for more than 10 minutes she says \”it\’s boring mommy, I am just sitting here and watching them run, I wanna run myself or do mosaic. Can I watch cartoon and do mosaic or paint bunny? \”. I followed all the suggestions from the pediatrician and my first daughter did not even see TV till she was 3 y.o.
I do not watch TV and have no idea how to manipulate remote controls (which surprises cable guys coming from some to time) and my husband watches TV after kids go to bed. If I need something I will watch it on youtube when kids are not around or read about it.
So, the 4 y.o is constantly playing, drawing, play dough, sensory sand activities, messy activities, etc. I also work from home which makes it\’s harder but I gave them all different toys and utensils to play, boxes, towels, tissues, etc.
She has no interest in the computers and when I bought a tablet thinking that I should engage her in computer educational game and gave it to her in the car she said she wants to look at the window and does not want tablet. She wanted to count trees and birds and cars. She never used it and it actually worried me since all the kids around are attached to screen.
I am so so happy that I am doing the right thing! Thank you again!
Thank you all for the great responses and comments. Due to the upcoming holiday, we are out of the office and look forward to responding once we are back on Thursday. Please continue to send in your comments and we will address them as soon as we can. Thanks!
I also appreciate your article. And I appreciate how positive you are with all the comments.
I have 2 comments.
1) Regardless of the good things that can happen through the games chosen and the videos; the logic encouraged, the information gathered, the patience learned, the effects on the brain will still occur, right? As with any drug, digital sedation will have side effects and it seems to me they must be considered. The brain will be affected and the question of long term effects answered.
2) Rather a long time ago I heard of a study that compared the attention spans of children who watched Sesame Street to those who watched the Much slower Mr Rogers. The show that seemed just to be set up to fit the attention spans of little ones appeared to be increasing the shortness of their attention and those who watched Mr Rogers had longer attention spans. This would certainly back up what you’ve discussed.
Thanks for your kind words!
Yes, even if positive things are gained (and there definitely are positive things that can be gained with from some types of carefully chosen screen media), the consequences would still be there are well if it’s media of a type that overstimulates the sensory systems. So that’s worth taking into account when you’re deciding what media and how much time.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
I wish I would have had this article in 2011 when my son was born. He suffered from severe eczema that covered his entire body. His skin looked like raw hamburger meat. It was awful. In order to do the many wet wraps per day to keep him from scratching and bleeding all the time he watched a lot of videos and played the Ipad. Even though I rarely let my daughter do any of that under age two! I knew better, but I didn\’t know any of this information in your article. Long, long, long story short: my son is the poster child for your article. I read it in tears because I feel so guilty. He is five now, in therapy, and progressing well, but I feel so much of his vestibular and vision issues could have been avoided. He loves electronics so much. We have decreased them tremendously and if it was solely my call they would be gone, all of them, but unfortunately the rest of the family is not as hard core as I am. Thank you for publishing this. I hope it can save a lot of people from the heartache our family has been through.
You sound like a wonderful, caring mother who was doing the best she could to help a suffering baby.
The intent of the article was not to inspire guilt and tears (although yours are a credit to how seriously you take raising your children). The intent was to raise awareness and thought about present and future decisions.
And even looking forward, it’s important to know that extenuating circumstances will often need a different decision than one you might have made under more “normal” circumstances. So just because you didn’t give your daughter significant screentime and you wouldn’t have given your son if not for the eczema, doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision to give it to him as a way of helping all of you deal with the eczema.
Now, it’s true – it may have had consequences. You might make a different decision in the future – or you might not. But either way, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong decision at the time. It may have been the right decision, AND still have had consequences. Life is tricky that way…
Dana, we’re sure you must be going through a lot with helping your son through his therapy. We hope that you can appreciate that he is fortunate who has a mother who cares about him, who has taken care of him through challenging times and will continue to help him through his challenges as he grows. To have that kind of parent – who grows herself and supports her children as they grow – that’s one of the most critical aspects to a healthy child.
We admire you and wish you much success,
Amy and Evelyn
If these claims are true then why these are devices not coming with warnings (a la cigarettes, alcohol etc.)? Why are these device manufacturers not being sued into bankruptcy???
I have always subscribed to the notion of “nothing to the excess” in all phases of life. For example water is great for you, but if you drink too much of it you will eventually drown. I feel starting at around age two that up to 30 min of screen time should be OK.
If kids don’t start using these devices then they will be behind in all phases of life when they have to start using them. My son (3) and daughter (5) do have their screen time tightly monitored. One thing we have run into is when visiting friends if the TV is on the other kids are able to play, but my kids hardly watch TV or movies so their eyes are glued to it and end up not playing.
Many school districts use tables and laptops as a core part of their curriculum. For example I went to an open house for the primary school where my daughter will be going to kindergarten this upcoming August. There was iPads, iMacs, etc. all over the room and much of what the teachers spoke about in their presentation was about these devices. Should I be trying to start a class action lawsuit again my school district? What is the name of a law firm or lawyer that I could contact?
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Many, many, MANY more studies (and probably long-term ones) would have to be done before any kind of government agency could mandate a warning on devices – or any lawsuits would have a chance of winning. Even with research studies, it’s going to be trickier than cigarettes and alcohol because (fortunately) the consequences are less extreme.
And yes, it is a big challenge to be raising a child in an age when devices appear everywhere – including, and especially, school. That leaves it up to the parent to find a different school (often not a feasible or desirable option) – or take a larger role in moderating screen time outside of school. This doesn’t mean no screen time. It means you need to have more awareness about what you allow and when you allow it. We’ll deal with this more in the upcoming Part 2, which focuses on practical questions like these.
One point – while you may have other reasons for wanting your young children to have screen time, we don’t think that “If kids don’t start using these devices then they will be behind in all phases of life when they have to start using them.” After all, when did we parents get our first device? And we’re not too bad, are we? 🙂
Seriously, though, even a child who only experiences an iPhone or tablet at 9 years old (which is almost unrealistic in today’s world) won’t be at a disadvantage for long. Kids pick up on things pretty fast. So we wouldn’t let that particular consideration be a concern.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
I think the key is everything in moderation. Telling parents that they are being lazy and ruining their children with screen time is counterproductive.
My son is 3 and watches one show in the morning and one in the evening. On road trips and occasionally at restaurants he gets to use apps on a phone. Somehow he has managed to continue to develop ahead of his age.
I am also a SAHM mom so we spend a lot of time together learning, going on educational outings, and making projects together.
He is only 3 and is already starting to write, spell, read, and do some addition and subtraction. His father is in Mensa so it may be genetic. He also is a software developer and made some of the apps my son uses. Technology is how my husband provides for our family and my husband plans to teach these skills to our son.
My point is that I worry that blanket statements and hysteria is not addressing the issue. Of course not engaging with your child and having them watch TV all day is bad, but some screen time does not define the parent. I found very few citations specifically relating to screen time and the claims you are making.
So now I have to worry that if my husband and I decide to go out to dinner and my son is tired of crayons and has finished his meal, and I would like to finish a meal before it gets cold, I have to worry about some sanctimommy judging my parenting based letting my son play a writing app on my phone for 10 minutes. Because obviously based on those 15 minutes of screen time it is quite apparent I am a lazy mom.
It’s an important topic, but unfortunately the argument is always one-sided and never speaks to the importance of balance.
It sounds like you’re very thought out about the amount of screen time you give your son and your reasons behind doing so.
That’s fantastic! That was exactly the point of the article: to get parents to be more aware of the consequences, so they can make thought-out decisions when deciding on how much screen time they’re going to expose their children to. You may not have needed to read it. 🙂
We also don’t think that you need to be “worr[ied] about some sanctimommy judging my parenting based letting my son play a writing app on my phone for 10 minutes. Because obviously based on those 15 minutes of screen time it is quite apparent I am a lazy mom.” It sounds like you were (and will be) very thought out about when and why you’re letting your child play on your phone. And he’s your child. So who cares what some bystander might think? Make good decisions (which it sounds like you do), and be confident in them.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
Thank you for this insightful article, confirming many realities and associated challenges and risks with technology usage by children, especially at an early age. If we put all the puzzle pieces together, we’ll notice a much bigger impact on not only children\’s development of early sensory-motory skills but also on their emotional -, interpersonal – as well as their cognitive or academic skills.
Limiting screen time for children (and people (:-)) of all ages, is critical for developing a healthy, balanced and synergised brain and body and therefore also a happy person who is celebrating real life in all its glory and rich dimensions while integrating all sensory and real world stimuli in an integrated and balanced way.
This article prompted me to write this:
My family has been screen free from the first months of our first child, but we don’t always find it easy to relate to the world with this philosophy (and we are not pushing it on anyone nor are we judging anyone, we don’t even talk about it much and still.) There are many reasons of it and a few I could think of I jotted down.
Thank you so much for sharing. Your beautiful article expresses very well the benefits of living screen-free… and the challenges of doing so in a world that is decidedly not. In many ways, as your article illustrates, screen-free is a different culture, and so there will be a culture gap that will need to be bridged when you’re interacting with people raised in the world of screens. It sounds like you’re very aware of that, and you’re doing a great job at staying true to your values, and yet still working with your children to enable them to integrate in a healthy way into the world around.
We wish you continued success!
Amy and Evelyn
Is there a short timeframe that is ‘ok’ for a 3 year old to watch TV at night? I NEED my 3 year old to reliably stay occupied for 20mins whilst I put our 12 month old to bed. If our 3 year old interupts the bedtime process for our 12 month old the whole night’s bedtime program turns upside down. Hubby works away. So I put on a program he loves, that we reserve for this timeslot (also helps motivate him to cooperate with bathtime). Then we do his bedtime routine (books, teeth, bed, book, sleep) afterwards. Bottom line is that I need TV for when my son wakes up in the morning and the baby is still sleeping (so I can get a little more sleep), for when the baby sleeps during the day and jobs in the kitchen are screaming at me, and to coordinate their seperate night time routines (I’ve tried mixing them, its disastrous). I had thought that being on a small farm with plenty of daytime activity, and the more structured play/activity programs we participate in 3 to 4 times a week, counteracted the screen time. Am I wrong?
First, being on a farm with lots of outdoor activity is great for kids’ healthy development! It’s wonderful you’re able to give that to your son.
The AAP screen time guideline for children under 5 years old is 1 hour a day maximum. If you’re dividing up your one hour between those times you need it during the day (early morning, getting those dishes done, baby’s bedtime), that’s ideal.
Putting screen time before bed, as we mentioned in the article, is not ideal mainly because of the impact it can have on a child’s sleep quality. But it sounds like if you don’t use screen time here, it’s going to have a worse impact on your children’s getting to bed and sleep quality. That’s a real consideration. So keep an eye on your child. If he’s more tired/less alert in the morning than you’d expect given the amount of sleep he got, you may want to explore other options of keeping him occupied besides screens.
But if you can’t find any other options, or if you feel you need more than 1 hour a day to keep yourself and your home functioning, we’d suggest you read our just-published Part 2 of this article: How to Reduce Screen Time for Kids: Healthy, Practical Guidelines. To summarize one section of the post: one of the most important things for your child’s healthy development is that you be a healthy, functioning human being. So if you need to use screen time “beyond the recommended guidelines” to make that happen, that’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be any consequences, but it’s still the right decision to make.
If you read through Part 2 and have any more questions, please do ask them in the comments there – we’d be happy to discuss them with you.
It sounds like you really care about your children’s healthy development and are setting them up well for future success.
Amy and Evelyn
Great article! I am looking into research in this area and would love to know which research studmies you are referring to when you say \”Reasons given by the AAP – and other research studies – include associations with obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviors, less time spent in developmentally helpful interaction with parents and siblings, language delays and attention issues.\”
Particularly I\’m interested in the association with language delay and less time spent in developmentally helpful interactions.
Many thanks in advance.
Could you please advise your source for stating that ‘hyper-focus’ affects children more than adult (more in younger children) due to a developing vestibular system? I would like to look into this further – this state may be affecting the quality of learning children are making.
It’s great that you’re investigating the topic further. A whole list of studies can be found in the footnotes of the AAP 2016 guidelines for young children and their guidelines for older children and young adults. You can browse through and see which studies look relevant to what you’re looking for, and then search their titles in Google to see if they’re on PubMed or any other public database.
Another very recent study you might find relevant is on use of handheld devices and risk of expressive language delay in young children.
As regards your question about young children and the developing vestibular system, just to clarify: the reason they’re more affected by the fast pace of screen media is their developing visual system. Because the visual and vestibular system are linked in the brain, so what happens to the visual system has an impact on the vestibular system. Aspects of this process and connection are discussed in pieces across different studies – we’ll be writing a future article with the aim of giving a complete picture.
Best of luck with your research – and if you turn up anything enlightening, please do share it with us!
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
Really ,really appreciate this article.this is an eye opener.just have one question.these days schools have projectors /smart boards…..for their AV as teaching aide .is it the same/different as watching TV?what should be the limit in school to teach a concept through videos?
Really appreciate if you can throw some light on school using media for teaching/entertaining.
You hit upon a big, deep topic. The use of screen media in schools isn’t technically any different (in terms of impact on children) than the use of media at home. The amount, impact and developmental consequences should be evaluated by educators before bringing it to their students in the same way that parents need to make a judgement call as to what and how much screen media they let their child be exposed to.
We know that today, many schools consider it a point of pride that they immerse their students in media, providing children as young as kindergarten with tablets, in addition to smart boards, etc. In our opinion, this can have adverse consequences on the students both in school – and after they get home.
School administrators and educators may not have seriously evaluated pros and cons of media immersion and young minds before jumping in – to a large extent because the possibility has only been around for a few short years, and they may not have access to the (limited) research and literature there is on the topic.
We are planning on writing another article on this topic specifically meant for educators and their challenges. Stay tuned!
Amy and Evelyn
Thank you very much! My daugther is 7 years old and she seldom see some screen, we don’t have TV at home, I don’t have an intelligent cell because I want to be an example. Since she was 5 years old I put some “nice, cute” and not much “fast cartoons” or films because she ask me that she wants to see films in our laptop. She usually see Calliou, Mary Poppins, Maya Bee, Winnie The Pooh,… what other kind of films or cartoons do you would recomend us for her? She wants more different films.
Now she wants to see The secret life of pets and Frozen I have dilemma… but I think that we are going to see the films, I don’t want to forbidden everything… its difficult, I’m feel like the video “Are you lost in the world like me?” of Moby.
Thank you for your attentions!
We admire how much thought you’re putting into bringing up your daughter, and the effort you’re putting in to being a good role model. Not everyone is able to do that, even when they want to.
It’s hard to specifically recommend films or cartoons. Almost all are “faster” than real life, meaning the visual stimulation (whether from the pace of the action, the changes in the frames and perspectives, etc.) causes the brain to work much faster to process it all than any experience your daughter would be seeing with her own two eyes while interacting with the physical world around her. It’s more a matter of limiting the exposure to the extent that you can. We’d recommend you check out Part 2 of this article for practical guidelines and tips, as well as two principles that can help you navigate the challenges. (Really – you’re not the only one who feels “lost in the world like me.” So many parents do. Which is why we wrote Part 2, to give some clarity and support.)
One practical point: if she wants to see films, it’s actually better to go out and see them in a theater than it is to wait and view them on your laptop. When you make it into a special, “outside” experience, it serves to differentiate it from the viewing she does at home. It’s an exception to the rule, not the rule, and she’ll view it as such and not expect it all the time.
We wish you much success!
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
Thank you very much for your words, I’m going to read the second part.
And thank you for giving me time to answer me.
I share your point of view and I encourage you to continue writing and showing this accompaniment to children.
All the best,
We need to also look at effect of hunching over screens has on musculo-skeletal system. It has just as permanent an effect on neck and spine, as well as wrists.
I like this article as it is very interesting and knowledgeable.
I would like to know who is the author.
Thanks for your kind words! You can find out more about us here: https://handsonotrehab.com/about/
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
You mention video chatting with relatives, why is that fine compared to other uses? We have an old phone offlined, and it’s preloaded with about 30 pictures of family. She gets to swipe through the pictures under supervision. And we save money and trees by not printing off pictures.
Screen is just the medium. It’s like saying all books are bad because racist literature* exists.
(*the original comment named a particular piece of racist literature. We’ve chosen to remove it out of the concern that it might offend members of our audience. -Amy and Evelyn)
You make a good point when it comes to video chatting. As we’ve mentioned before in the comments, the video chatting seems to be more of the AAP’s concession to what people see as untouchable than approval for a particular reason. Although, to be fair, video chatting with relatives does have a qualitatively different tone to it. It’s usually at the pace of actual human interaction, as opposed to the rapid pace stimulation present in games, movies, etc.
As to swiping through still pictures on a phone (if that’s really all you’re doing), it wouldn’t be all the different from a visual standpoint than flipping through a photo album (although you would still have the blue light effect, because it is a backlit screen).
We would, however, differ with your statement about how “Screen is just the medium.” In our opinion, there is no such thing as “just” the medium (you can see Marshall McLuhan’s classic The Medium is the Message for further elaboration). The medium influences the perception and effect of the content. It’s like relating to reading a piece of racist literature and hearing a racist charismatic demagogue passionately give over those arguments as being the same experience with the same effects on you. It doesn’t work that way. It’s the same message, but a different medium, and the impact and effect is different.
So too, the medium of “screen” has an effect independent of the content it conveys. It doesn’t mean it’s evil, but it needs to be a factor taken into effect when you’re making decisions about exposure and consumption.
All the best,
Amy and Evelyn
This article was informative. Could I have the references for the information in the article to look into the effects of electronics on a child’s sensory systems?
Unfortunately we don’t have an external reference that spells everything out. What we share about the topic is deductive conclusions based on the physiological and neurological processes of development. Maybe one day there will be more published research on the topic – that would be wonderful!
Hi, thanks for an interesting article. I’m an OT and was wondering if you have references regarding effects on visual and sensory systems. I’m currently preparing a post graduate lecture on hand function and there was a recent article in the UK about children starting school without the pre-requisite skills to pick up a pencil. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/25/children-struggle-to-hold-pencils-due-to-too-much-tech-doctors-say
I’ve done a quick literature search on screen time and it’s effects on hand development but can’t find anything. Are you aware of any research?
We’re not aware of any research on screentime and its effects on hand development, but in any event it doesn’t seem like screentime would directly cause an issue with hand development. There certainly is an impact (as in the article you brought), but it’s indirect (i.e. children are spending time on screen activities and not on physical activities like ball playing, bead stringing, coloring, etc., so they don’t get the necessary physical experience for proper development).
If you hear of anything else, however, please let us know!
Amy and Evelyn
I was just wondering if I should be concerned with my 15 month old watching TV at her grandparents? She doesn’t watch any tv with me at home but I am under the impression that she watches a quite a bit when she is with them – they are the type of people who often have the tv on in the background.
I often find it a bit hard to be assertive of what I want and I have been telling myself it’s only once a week, if that, but I guess I would be interested to know if once and while isn’t so bad?
It’s been a great article to read, thanks heaps for writing 🙂
A scientific test of the theory is available to us thanks to the presence of the Amish et al here in Michigan and Ohio
No electronic anything in the home makes for a control group in terms of ADHD symptoms and such
Please look again at the end of this article and consider that some kids have very positive experiences on screens, making friends, finding their strengths, and relaxing while playing video games they can be quite good at due to their visual processing differences. When we ignore how brutal school can be for kids with SPD and related differences, and judge parents as uncaring, we end up stigmatizing kids and their loving families and not addressing why they want to retreat to the world of video games.
You make an important point, Nancy. Kids with SPD (and other developmental issues) face incredible challenges in a system set up for “neurotypical” children. Those challenges need to be addressed at the root, by increasing awareness, sensitivity and accommodations.
We agree that most parents are caring, concerned, and want to do their utmost to help their children. While screen media, used carefully and deliberately, can be helpful to children for all the reasons you mentioned, the lack of awareness about the detrimental effects of screentime can lead to an imbalance where the child is getting more negative than positive out of the experience. This article isn’t coming to stigmatize but to get people to think twice, and make screens a conscious choice instead of a default.
In Part 2 of this article, we discussed more of an approach to the parenting challenges that surround screentime, especially with special needs kids.
Amy and Evelyn
I am always wondering what it will be like in twenty, thirty, years’ time. We are not yet done with screen media and advances in technology. I wonder what else after the tablet, phone, laptop, desktop….. Let alone speeds at which we access or view things!
Managing screen time will become harder and harder as time goes on I think. Already, life is about technology. Before one has blinked his or her eye, he or she is needing to learn the latest discovery one needs to access important documents or information!!
There might come a time when even learning will all be online from early on in life. Already, screen media has become the baby sitter. A time might come when Teachers and Care Givers are made redundant, obsolete. Once trends start, especially technology, there is no stopping them regardless of scientific discoveries that are telling us to STOP and there is no going back. One of its dangers is it makes things convenient for the busy and lazy parent and teacher. It also makes things easier for the business world. The child’s development in its formative years is not even a consideration sadly. Instead, it focuses on dealing with the symptoms or with the effect since the cause is hard to stop. We can only hope for the best with the already damaged brains and those doomed to the effects of screen media. The few of us aware of these adverse effects, can only do the best we can to control screen time for our children and grandchildren . We will also do our best to spread awareness.
First, I love the article. It is positive and give positive suggestions. Unlike most articles that are often filled with parent shaming around screen time. I am so tired of parent shaming articles around screen time. It is so difficult being a parent these days. On the other hand, there are several aspects to “screen time” that are never considered in these articles:
1. Karen brought up a good point. My son has CAPD. Playing video games has given him a safe environment for him to excel at his pace and not the Neuro typical pace and pressures of “real” life. He has gained confidence in himself. Video games have given him an outlet to learn at a pace comfortable for him. And to socalize at a pace comfortable for him.
2. Social pressure. Love the example of the child settling down because the dad gave up electronics. NOT the full picture. It didn’t mention the glaring looks from other people in the restaurant to “control” his kid. People are intolerant of kids that get out of control in public. I don’t like giving my 3 year old electronics. I firmly believe in my son learning how to be patient in an activity that he might not like or that isn’t as fun but that takes time. Time that is not afforded by social pressures.
3. My oldest son can’t get any of his friends to come over. Parents over schedule their kids so the only time he can catch up with his friends is playing virtually online with them. We keep inviting his friends to do something else that is not video games but keep getting turned down.
I do require my son to take a break from video games. But I can’t adhear to the recommended standards published by pedtricians that don’t have to deal with so many social factors. These days i read articles like this to give me some new ideas and that is all. This article gave me a good idea about instiling reading time before bed for sure. And possibly increasing some additional efforts at night.
OMG Thank you for sharing this! I’ve always been concerned with screen time and children. Especially in today’s world where everything is online is getting even more difficult to limit any devices. I’ve seen friends, family and coworkers struggle with this fact because it’s been normalized and accepted by many people. As an adult, I’ve struggled to limit my own screen time and even needed to download apps that will set a time limit on apps and the number of unlocks I can do. Honestly this has helped me and now I don’t even use the Instagram (which I previously used all day). On top of all this I’ve been learning about creating sleeping patterns for kids too. The thing with screen time is that you lose a sense of time spent on devices and it tends to steal any sleepiness too. I’ve heard the horror stories from parents struggling to create healthy sleeping patterns from kids and teens. A huge culprit are the devices being used. This article you wrote is a huge help and a small collection for my research to help parents. There is so much parents need to know and be aware of in today’s world. I didn’t even mention the highly specific targeting that companies make at marketing to kids and devices. This is the new reality, but I believe it’s very manageable as long as you are aware. Thanks again!
Thank you Jennnifer for reminding us of this. Yes – especially, with COVID-19, children are online so much more than ever before and this is effecting our children’s ability to regulate themselves in all areas, including sleep. Taking care of strict bedtime routines, limiting screen time and being conscious of food intake should help slowly manage these issues. Thank you so much for your input.
Thanks for this excellent article. I wish I came across it before reaching the point of having to Google the problem.
It’s given me a better understanding of why my child reacts the way she sometime does during or after screen time.
Now that I think about it, it has been much easier when transitioning from screen time to doing other tasks vs simply turning off the screen. Transferring focus onto something else definitely seems the way to go, as she soon forgets all about the device. Simply cutting it off tends to lead to major meltdowns, and all she wants is the device back. Although, that would seem to depend on what she’s been doing.
I’ve realized that when she’s been watching or playing something more calm/ slower paced, she’s more likely to simply turn it off when asked, unlike when she’s fixated on something that takes more focus and attention and can’t even turn away from it.
I never really saw the connection between the content she was watching/playing and the way she reacts when she finishes it until I read this article, because she was never watching or playing anything that depicted bad behaviour, or would encourage her to behave the way she sometimes did. I just figured some days are good days, some days are bad days, so this has cleared things up greatly and given me ideas of how to deal with it from now on.
Thank you so much Andy! Yes – at times, it is not WHAT they are viewing but HOW they are viewing. The movements create different pathways to be triggered in the brain. So grateful the article bought awareness and tools to help you and your family. Our pleasure.