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The Pros and Cons of Screen Time for Young Children

Consider the benefits and risks of using devices in early childhood education.

The Pros and Cons of Screen Time for Young Children

The Pros and Cons of Screen Time for Young Children

Technology can be a valuable teaching tool, but it's essential to monitor your children's screen time—the amount of time they spend looking at a computer, tablet, game system, phone, or TV—when teaching lessons that require devices.

A young child sitting at a table and pointing at a phone screen.

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Screen time for children

Technology and interactive media can help to support young children's learning and development in the classroom when used properly, but children today are often exposed to too much screen time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children interact with screens for an average of seven hours daily.

In a 2020 survey by Pew Research, the most common device parents say their young child engages with is a television, with 88% of parents saying their child uses a TV. 80% of parents with children between the ages of five and 11 reported that their children have used or interacted with a tablet computer, compared with 64% of parents with a child aged three to four. Overall, parents with children between the ages of five and 11 were more likely to report that their children interacted with technology than parents of children under five.

Positive effects of screen time

Screen time can benefit young children if their device usage has clear time limits, is appropriately monitored, and focuses on educational content. Using devices in the classroom can help to:

  • Reinforce lessons: Using developmentally appropriate educational videos and digital tools in the classroom can support the concepts that are being taught or help children learn material they may struggle with.
  • Improve equity and inclusion: Using digital media can provide your classroom with diverse and equitable teaching materials that introduce children to cultures and identities that may not be represented in analog teaching materials, such as books.
  • Leverage home-school connections: Educators can utilize digital media to strengthen family engagement by offering ways families can continue their child’s learning at home. For example, teachers can suggest educational videos for families to watch with their children, providing extra practice of the skills they are learning in the classroom.

Negative effects of screen time

Too much screen time can be detrimental to young children. The negative effects of screen time on children include:

  • Difficulty sleeping: Exposure to the blue light emitted by devices can disrupt circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycles.
  • Obesity: A 2022 study found that three-year-olds exposed to excess screen time have an increased risk of obesity by age five.
  • Language delays: Excessive screen time can hamper children’s communication and language skills. Children exposed to too much screen time have fewer opportunities to participate in face-to-face interactions that teach them facial expressions and emotional cues that benefit their early language development.

A child in a pink sweater and blue jeans sitting cross-legged on a rug and looking at a gold cell phone.

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Screen time recommendations by age

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends limits on screen time based on a child's age.

  • Children younger than 18 months old: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family members.
  • Children ages 18 months to 24 months old: Limit screen use to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
  • Children ages two to five years old: Limit non-educational screen time to about one hour per day.

To further support your children’s growth and development, download our free list of activity ideas across developmental domains.

Activities Across Developmental Domains - brightwheel

Download our free list of activities across developmental domains!

Final thoughts

Including limited screen time in your curriculum can be an engaging way to teach your children material that they may not be able to learn with books or traditional activities. However, too much screen time for toddlers and preschoolers can lead to health issues and developmental delays. Therefore, it's important to carefully consider the screen time limitations that are best for your classroom based on your children's ages and levels of development.

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