When is a child too young for screen time?

May 14, 2015 by wendy

Tablet Screens
Tablets by Martin Voltri is licensed under CC by 2.0

With phones, tablets, and computers being a part of our everyday lives, as parents, you’re probably wondering whether or not screen time is healthy for your children, especially for your youngest. I decided to investigate and here’s what I found.

Screen time for infants and toddlers

In 2011, The New York Times published an article called, “Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest,” in response to the American Academy of Pediatrics advising parents to limit the amount of time their infants and toddlers spend in front of video screens. The article quoted several experts, including Dr. Georgene Troseth, a psychologist at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, and Dr. Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor at Temple University. Dr. Troseth claimed that infants and toddlers “just have no idea what’s going on” when watching video screens, and Dr. Hirsh-Pasek claimed that when children interact with real people, they produce and understand more language.

In 2013, The Telegraph published an article called, “How Young is Too Young for Technology?” which stated that 80 percent of a child’s brain growth occurs in the first three years. Although there’s no evidence, there’s concern that too much technology during the first three years could affect a child’s ability to socialize.

What about after the first three years?

According to a story on Spotlight, a publication supported by the MacArthur Foundation, social interaction is key to a young child’s learning process. The story quoted Lisa Guernsey, director of Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, who said that young children need social partners, like teachers, parents, and siblings, so that they can identify facial expressions and reactions.

The story included Dr. Ellen Wartella, professor of Communication Studies and Psychology at Northwestern University, who stated that when considering whether screen time is good or bad, one must also think about the content, the context, and the child. Is the content educational? Is the child interacting with a social partner? What are the needs of the child?

So not all screen time is equal?

Based on the above articles, it seems that not all screen time is equal. Parents must take into account the content, the context, and their child. For the first three years, learning by interacting with others appears to be the most effective, but after the first three years, screen time can facilitate learning and social interaction if combined with the right content and context.