Trending: Screen Time & Kids

What new research says about children and screen time.


Do a Google search for kids and screen time, and you will find headlines that say everything from “screens are toxic for kids” to “kids can watch Winnie the Pooh all day if they want to.” Most recently, a new study claims there is no evidence screen time is bad for kids. But what does that tell us when combined with other things we know?

We looked at the latest research, as well as recommendations from NAEYC, the Fred Rogers Center and the American Academy for Pediatrics, and this is what we found.


What research says about early childhood and screen time:

The first long-term study on how screen time affects children’s brains suggests it could do damage.

The study is called Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD), and it is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. Through ABCD, researchers are tracking the development of 11,874 children through adolescence into young adulthood. At this point, the kids participating in this study are nine to ten years old, and the study is still ongoing.

But research findings are complicated. And results that may look as “screen time is bad” at first glance can also mean something more complex. The New York Times best explained it in their article Is Screen Time Bad for Kids’ Brains? :

Yes, but so does every other activity that children engage in: sleep, homework, playing soccer, arguing, growing up in poverty, reading, vaping behind the school. The adolescent brain continually changes, or “rewires” itself, in response to daily experience, and that adaptation continues into the early to mid 20s.


Several articles have popped up recently, citing a new assessment made by a group of pediatricians in the UK. The doctors say there’s not enough evidence to limit screen time.

While none of the recent studies have been able to show solid evidence that screen time has negative effect on children, the group of scientists did suggest another connection between screens and negative outcomes. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK says that screen time could have a negative effect on young brains by taking up the time that could have been spent doing other valuable things.  Talking or socializing, being physically active or sleeping, for example.

Another recent study says that rewarding children with screen time leads to more screen time.

The University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada found that children whose parents give screen time as a reward or take it away as punishment, spend more time with screens. In an article for Science Daily, the researchers highlighted that these findings are a lot like studies that show the same results for parents who use candy as a reward.

“When you give food as a reward it makes children like the carrot less and the cake more. Same thing with screen time.” — Jess Haines, family relations and applied nutrition professor at University of Guleph.


What experts recommend for early childhood professionals .

While new research keeps popping up, a consensus has emerged among leaders in this field. These recommendations for early childhood educators from NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center share a set of foundational elements necessary for successfully sharing technology with young children, published on

  • Relationships.

    A child’s use of media and technology should invite and enhance interactions and strengthen relationships with peers, siblings, and parents.

  • Co-viewing and active parent engagement.

    Using media together improves learning. Talking about what the child is seeing and doing, and connecting what is on the screen with real-life experiences, builds language skills and vocabulary, encourages interactions, and strengthens relationships.

  • Social and emotional learning.

    Technology should be used in ways that support positive social interactions, mindfulness, creativity, and a sense of initiative.

  • Early childhood essential.

    Technology use should not displace or replace imaginative play, outdoor play and nature, creativity, curiosity and wonder, solitary and shared experiences, or using tools for inquiry, problem solving, and exploring the world.

  • Content, context and quality.

    The quality of what children watch on screens is more important than how much they watch.

  • Media creation.

    Young children are moving from being media consumers to media creators. New digital tools provide the opportunity for making and creating at their fingertips.

  • Family engagement.

    In the digital age, technology tools can improve communication between home and school, making it easier to exchange information and share resources. Engaging families improves outcomes for children.

  • Adult habits.

    As the primary role models for technology and media use, adults should be aware of and set limits on their own technology and media use when children are present and focus on children having well-rounded experiences, including moderate, healthy media use.

  • Teacher preparation.

    Pre-service teacher education and in-service professional development are needed to provide educators with the media literacy and technology skills to select, use, integrate, and evaluate technology tools for young children.

  • Media mentors.

    Young children need trusted adults who are active media mentors to guide them safely in the digital age.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these takeaways elaborate on a key point in the joint position statement: “Early childhood educators always should use their knowledge of child development and effective practices to carefully and intentionally select and use technology and media if and when it serves healthy development, learning, creativity, interactions with others, and relationships” (NAEYC & Fred Rogers Center 2012, 5).

For families: this website can help families meet media use goals and learn about what will work best for them:

Read in depth — NaEYC’s Technology and Interactive Media in Early Childhood Programs: What We’ve Learned from Five Years of Research, Policy, and Practice


What we do know & Can Share With Families:

Managing screen time is important. And although discussing and making media plans are all great ideas, perhaps another approach is to do more of the things you already know are good for little ones.

Children show the most brain development when they spend lots of time playing.
Playing is how children learn. The more time they spend exploring their environment and using their imagination to solve problems, the more children will understand about how the world around them works.

Developing fine and gross motor skills can develop other areas of the brain, like language.
Research shows that play and learning is not just for learning how things work. When young children develop the parts of their brain that are related to motor skills, the parts of their brain related to language develop too.

Talking to children helps them build trust and identify their feelings
By exploring your little learner’s reactions together, you teach them that they can trust the connections they are making in their minds. When a child feels secure in their learning, they can explore and build upon that knowledge. Children who don’t feel secure about what they are learning are less likely to build from one idea or feeling to the next. Read more about serve and return.



Want to share tips with the families you serve? See a family-facing version of this post here.