Should You Limit Your Children’s Screen Time?

Young children are exposed to screen time and digital media throughout the day.

Young children are exposed to screen time and digital media throughout the day. Tablets and phones are used as sources of babysitting, entertainment, and for educational purposes. Screens are so common that toddlers who are calmed by a tablet or other screen are called “techno-tots” (Deal, 2017). Some infants and toddlers can navigate tablets and smartphones by tapping and swiping before they can walk or talk.

Screen time and its impact on child development is an important topic for those working with and raising young children. As challenging as it is, adults are responsible for monitoring and guiding children’s screen time. Research clearly shows that children mimic the behaviors of adults. When adults spend a significant amount of time on screens, it is not surprising that children are interested in screens and seek electronic devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has published screen time recommendations. They advise that children under the age of 18 months should not have any access to media. When children are ages 18-24 months, media and screen time should be limited to high quality, educational programming and it’s recommended that parents co-view the content with the children. Children between two and five years old should have an hour or less screen time per day with a focus on high quality, educational programming. Developing a “healthy media diet” is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). Children who use media without limits or guidelines are generally less physically active and screen time use can impact emotional, mental and social development.

Happy teenager boy using mobile phone and headphones in natural background.

One danger of screen time is the impact it can have on relationships, including the parent/child relationship, and a child’s ability to self-regulation of their emotions. When parents and caregivers spend time talking, reading, and playing with a child, they are helping the child learn how to socially interact with other people. Children who spend time looking at a screen may not adequately develop strong, relationships and social skills. As children develop, they need to learn self-regulation skills to manage their behavior and calm themselves. When a screen is used as a calming method, children may not learn how self-regulate or manage their actions during times of boredom or over-excitement.

Screen time can also impact physical health (including sleep and exercise) as well as social and academic development. Studies have shown that blue light, which is emitted by screens, changes the body’s natural sleep cycle, making it hard to fall asleep. For children, blue lighting could impact nap time as well as overnight sleep. Young children are growing rapidly, and an adequate amount of sleep is important for their development. Equally important is exercise and creative play which is often reduced with an increased use of screens and media. Reduced physical activity can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Engaging in media can also distract children from creative play. Unstructured play allows children the opportunity to develop problem solving, movement, listening, and social skills while allowing children to learn more about their unique interests.

Studies continue to assess the impact of screen time on academic performance and the overall development of children. “Devices may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-moto skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” shares Jenny Radesky, MD and Clinical Instructor in Development-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University (Washel, 2017). Children need to experience activities that foster problem solving, exploration, creative thinking, and experimentation (Lerner, Barr, 2015).

As technology advances, parents need to review the guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and take steps to implement a media plan that fits their family. With adults tied to their smartphones, Alexa, and other electronics, it’s not realistic that children will be free from these devices; however, it is important to teach children to manage their device use. The first step is for parents and caregivers to decide on a media plan and work together to track and enforce limits.

Young person using a computer with headphones.As screen time is reduced, a gap is created and here are a few tips to help parents navigate and guide children. Ideally, the additional time would be filled with family time doing activities together such as reading, cooking, going to the park, attending story time at the library, or playing games. During meal times, take a moment to turn off the television and instead of watching a show, use the time for conversation, turn-taking, or storytelling (Deal, 2017). When the screen turns off, it’s a great time to turn on some music. Take a moment to dance or let the children play with music in the background. Importantly, parents should reduce their screen time as a role model for their children (May Clinic, 2016).

Parents and caregivers play an important role in helping children develop socially in a society that is increasingly engaged in media. The American Academy of Pediatrics developed guidelines to help families navigate this new dimension in society. Although the impact of screen time is relatively new and the consequences are still being studied, parental monitoring of screen time and content can positively increase the development of young children.


  1. Deal, C. 11 Dangers of Screen Time, 24 February 2017,
  2. Lerner, C. and Barr, R. Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight – Research Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old, Zero to Three, 35 (N4), 1-10. March 2015.
  3. New Recommendations for Media Use, 21 October 2016.
  4. Screen Time and Children-How to Guide Your Child, 18 November 2016. Mayo Clinic Newsletter.
  5. Washel, E. 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give a Child a Smartphone or Tablet, September 2017.

3 Ways Screen Time Can Improve Child Literacy Skills

While there is controversy surrounding screen time, children can use their time with technology to improve their reading skills.

Parents used to talk about how much time their children spent watching cartoons, but total screen time is a new challenge. As technology advances, so does screen time, or the time our children spend watching television, playing video games or using tablets and phones. Recent articles and studies portray all screens to be problematic for young children. But I have good news – while there is controversy surrounding screen time, children can use their time with technology to improve their reading skills.

As a reading coach, I’ve seen excessive amounts of screen time, which is not ideal for children, but reasonable amounts up to an hour total per day, used in appropriate ways can be beneficial. Here are three ways screen time can improve reading skills:

child with adult on laptop1. Educational Videos. When children are first learning how to read they focus on learning letter sounds. Phonics plays a huge role in reading and some kids can struggle with learning the various sounds of the English language. One of the easiest ways for kids to listen to sounds is by watching videos. Videos give kids a visual to connect to the sound and they can hear the proper pronunciation. Youtube is a great place to find phonics videos, and Kidzphonics has a huge variety of videos to choose from.

Older children can also utilize educational videos to improve their reading skills. Beginner readers can watch Youtube videos of adults reading to help with fluency. Fluent readers can view videos on summarizing, making inferences, and recognizing cause and effect.

2. E-books. Apps like Kindle and iBooks allow readers to read an e-book on any device. Readers have access to books instantly and they can be read anywhere and at any time. E-books also make reading interactive. Readers can simply magnify, highlight, define words, and take notes all with a few finger clicks. E-books are also great for children of all ages because apps include picture books and chapter books.

child playing on tablet

A great app for children’s books is Epic! It can be used on any device and features over 25,000 books and videos for children of all ages. It appeals to all readers as it offers fiction and nonfiction books as well as books in Spanish. Many schools are transitioning to virtual textbooks, so the more exposure children have to e-books, the easier it will be for them to navigate academic texts.

3. Audiobooks. For those children who struggle with reading or reading comprehension, audiobooks are a great solution. Apps like Audible by Amazon allow readers to download audiobooks that can be replayed numerous times. For additional support, kids can read along with the audio. Audiobooks can also be enjoyed with the whole family by listening together during family time or while driving in the car.

If a reader does not want to purchase audiobooks, Youtube provides audio versions for free. This comes in handy for readers listening on the go, especially kids. If a child has to read, they can follow along with the Youtube audio version in school, on the bus, or sitting on the couch.

If used effectively and appropriately, screens can help readers of all ages improve their skills. It is important to be aware of how much time children spend on devices and what they are doing. Not all apps or videos will help kids, so feel free to try different programs. It is important the kids should enjoy reading, so if they are getting frustrated consider watching the videos or reading the e-books together. A frustrated reader will often shut down, so making it into an activity with an adult can often relieve the child.

While there is controversy surrounding screen time, if used effectively with time limits, screen time can help readers of all ages improve their skills. Not all apps or videos will help children develop their skillset, so try different programs and see what apps the child likes. It is important that the child enjoys reading, so if they are getting frustrated consider watching the videos or reading the e-books together. A frustrated reader will often shut down, so making it into an activity with an adult or guide the student to apps that include some pictures or gameplay about the story.

About the Author. Christine Ducz is an English teacher and reading coach in New Jersey. A graduate of the University of Phoenix with a Master of Arts in Education and Curriculum Instruction, Christine also authors post-secondary education courses, including Children and Literacy. Christine is an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute, an organization dedicated to professional training and certification of elite Nannies, Au Pairs, Babysitters, and other childcare providers.

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