Children and Screen Time

The other day I caught my two year old holding my cell phone in her hand as if she were playing a video game and I felt my heart sink. I know technology is in the world but I would like to shelter her from it as long as possible. Despite this, we are no strangers to t.v., computers or smart phones in our household. In the mornings I will oftentimes let her watch a few minutes of “Spider”, or “Charlotte’s Web”, as it is more commonly referred to, while I get ready for work. On the smart phone she talks with her grandmother and looks at pictures we have taken together. However, the questions in my mind about technology and screen time run rampant as she is at a very tender age of development and I only want what is best for her developing brain and personhood. Ask any parent about screen time and their children and more questions than answers will arise. In addition, opinions vary widely, ranging from ‘computers are good for your children’, to ‘I would prefer if my child never interfaced with a screen again’.

Recently, I have written about my own personal beliefs regarding children’s use of technology. I have mentioned that I believe technology interferes with socialization, relationships, and that it is much more important for children to be interacting with other human beings and with nature than with screens.

I have grappled with the question as to why children explicitly should not be exposed to technology and how to respond to the argument that technology is educational.

Given my ideology, how do I respond if a parent says to me, “Yes, I let my child use the ipad and the computer during the day. It’s educational.” Can I say, no, it’s not educational? Of course not. But the following is what I can say.

Children and Technology

Experiential learning, meaning hands-on learning, results in better  problem solving skills, creativity and imagination than technology.

  1. Because technology plays such big role in our lives today, children are often engrossed in two dimensional visual experiences. During that time children are being taken away from the more important, three dimensional, hands-on experiences, social experiences, and experiences in nature.
  2. The gains that can be made through a computer or an iPad can just as easily be made through some other experience. For instance, counting or the alphabet can be learned by use of a computer, but they can also be learned through experiences that involve interacting with another human being or with objects that they can touch, feel, and experience.
  3. The rise in technology is resulting in a decrease in the amount of time children spend in nature.
  4. Children’s brains are not designed to handle the fast moving pace of many cartoons and “children’s” television shows. Slow moving shows like Sesame Street are more appropriate for the child’s developing brain.
  5. Nature is by far much more important developmentally to children than technology.
  6. Technology, such as smart phones or computers, are addictive. The more your child plays with them, the more they will want to play with them. Think about your own experience with computer games or your cell phone.
  7. Children start to rely on technology when they get bored rather than on social relationship and their imagination.

Do the gains made by having your children play with an iPad or a computer outweigh the gains that can be made by having your children engage in imaginative or creative play, in a social experience or in nature? Let’s find out.

Detrimental Effects of Screen Time

According to the Mayo Clinic (2011), too much screen time is linked to the following:

  • Obesity. Children who watch more than two hours of TV a day are more likely to be overweight.
  • Irregular sleep. The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to resist going to bed and to have trouble falling asleep.
  • Behavioral problems. Elementary students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV or using a computer are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems.
  • Attention problems. Exposure to video games increases the risk of attention problems in children.
  • Bullying. Children who watch excessive amounts of TV are more likely to bully than children who don’t.
  • Impaired academic performance. Elementary students who have TVs in their bedrooms tend to perform worse on tests than those who don’t.
  • Violence. Too much exposure to violence on TV and in movies, music videos, and video and computer games, can desensitize children to violence. As a result, children may learn to accept violent behavior as a normal part of life and a way to solve problems.
  • Less time for play. Excessive screen time leaves less time for active, creative play.

Recommendations for Screen Time and Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made very specific recommendations for children in regards to screen time.

For children under the age of two, the AAP recommends NO screen time including background television intended for adults.

  • For children over the age of two, AAP recommends limiting a child’s use of TV, movies, video and computer games, to no more than one or two hours a day.
  • The AAP states that there are no known positive effects of screen time for children younger than 2 years and potentially negative effects. (D’Arcy, 2011)

In her Washington Post article, D’Arcy (2011) goes on to summarize the AAP’s stance on children and screen time by highlighting that “parents are usually fooled into thinking certain materials are ‘educational’ when there’s no evidence to support that.” She states that the AAP finds “unstructured playtime . . . more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure.” From a pediatrician’s standpoint, according to D’Arcy, unstructured playtime is “more beneficial for children to develop creativity, problem-solving and reasoning skills . . . . and better for developing motor skills.”


Although there is likely nothing WRONG with allowing your child to watch an hour or so of T.V. a day, or play with your ipad for awhile, the question remains, what is your child missing out on? Why not encourage your child to grapple with finding a way to spend an hour of down time? Why not take the extra-time to find a way for your child to expand their creativity and problem solving skills? It will be worth the effort in the long run.

References and Further Reading

Black, R. (2012).

D’Arcy, J. (2011).

Manjoom, F. (2011).

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2011).

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  1. I would have preferred a home with no tv. But my husband is a big tv fan, so we have tvs. Our son watches mostly NickJr, and PBS kids shows, and most of the shows are pretty good and teach values and skills I like. Sharing, caring, dealing with feelings, interacting with other people, environmentalism, art appreciation, science, self esteem… and letters and numbers too. When we can’t go outside, it is a nice resource to have. I do see him using the socialization skills he learned on tv when we are at the playground, for example, introducing himself to other children, and asking their names.

  2. I’m okay with a little tv; don’t get me wrong. I just feel like most of what can be learned on tv can also be taught by me and that given the choice, I’m going to promote the one-on-one time with me or another adult or her peers. If she learns something through tv incidentally, that’s great! But I personally won’t be using media as a tool that way.

  3. Just recently we made an app that solves some of the issues that you outlined. Our app takes advantage kids addiction of tech to encourage them to do a non app activity – coloring in a page. What is different about our app (the technology only just being invented) is that rather than coloring in the page on the screen you actually color in the page that is “printed.” The app then takes what the child has drawn and applies it to a 3D model in “Augmented Reality.” Every single child that has experienced this has been highly engaged in coloring the pages (which is quite time consuming.) The use of the app has always been secondary.

    What are your thoughts on this kind of technology? I.e. tech that simply supports normal everyday activities?

    1. I actually don’t think that children should need a computer or a tablet or a phone to engage them in everyday activities of childhood, such as coloring. As I stated in my article, any face to face time with a screen is time that child can be in face to face time with an adult or with another child. A child could also be encouraged to make their own 3-D activity using materials that they can handle, manipulate and experience using their senses (fabric, stuffing, buttons, etc.). These types of activities feed the child’s imagination and encourage sensory experiences, not more screen time.

    2. On another note – you talk about taking advantage of a child’s addiction to technology. The only way to solve that is to eliminate the object of addiction, not encourage them to use it more. Take away the tablet and hand them a box of crayons a paper. Or better yet, get down on the floor and color with them. Problem solved.

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