Should young children have screen time?

From tablets to smart home devices to television, we live in a world dominated by electronics. While technological advancements are vital for progress and proven to save lives, not all technology is beneficial. For instance, many think young children should not have any screen time, as it can do more harm than good. 

We consulted our baby and kid expert, Dr. Aimee Ketchum, to see whether or not screen time is recommended for young children. As a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Development, Dr. Ketchum knows the best ways to help children learn and develop.

What to know about young children and screen time

Dr. Ketchum recommended no screen time for young children and adds, “The younger the child, the more detrimental screen time is for their development.” Screens include smartphones, gaming devices, tablets and television. Here are some of the adverse effects screen time has on young children.

Negative effects of screen time for children

Language and cognitive development

According to Dr. Ketchum, “babies need to hear at least 2,000 words spoken to them per day to form the foundation for their own language. Hart and Risley found that children need to hear at least 1,700 to 2,000 words spoken to them per day just to be in the 75th percentile for language acquisition.” When screen time replaces human interactions, some children may only hear 300 words spoken to them per day. “Some children experience an increased risk of expressive speech delay due to excessive screen time because they lacked face-to-face interactions,” she said.

Children’s attention span and behavior

While there is no research to show that screen time causes autism or ADHD, Dr. Ketchum noted that “some studies have shown that excessive screen time can be associated with mood swings and aggressive behavior in children, and screen time has also been found to negatively impact some children’s attention span.”

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry lists additional negative effects of screen time for children. 

  • Sleep problems
  • Lower grades in school
  • Reading fewer books
  • Less time with family and friends
  • Not enough outdoor or physical activity
  • Weight problems
  • Poor self-image and body issues
  • Fear of missing out

Screen time guidelines for young children

Dr. Ketchum referenced the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for screen time with children, which recommends that children under 18 months have no screen time. While children 18 to 24 months should not have screen time, the AAP recognizes Facetime or video calling with family members as acceptable screen time. “Children ages 2 through 5 should have one hour or less of screen time per day of high-quality programming and co-viewing with parents,” said Dr. Ketchum. Acceptable programming includes “Sesame Street” or PBS.

If you’re concerned about how to help your child’s development, Dr. Ketchum recommended good old-fashioned engagement. “Talk to babies. Even if they are too young to respond, read books, sing, narrate what you are doing, talk  and about what you see while driving. These interactions will all help to build language, literacy, vocabulary, bonding and attachment.”

Screen time alternatives

Best Toniebox Audio Player

Toniebox Audio Player

For a screen-free listening experience to inspire kids’ imagination, this audio player replaces over-stimulating flashing screens and is perfect for all ages. It requires no Wi-Fi after the initial set-up and can even be brought in the car. Plus, its easy-to-use design is ideal for little fingers to operate independently, allowing them to choose their favorite bedtime story or song.

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Best Play-Doh Starter Set

Play-Doh Starter Set

From encouraging creativity to developing fine motor skills, Play-Doh is an excellent alternative to screens. You can also use it as a tool to teach children letters, counting, shapes and more. This starter set comes with a reusable carrying tote, four colors of Play-Doh and nine classic tools that cut, stamp or roll. 

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Best Melissa & Doug Classic Wooden Peg Puzzles

Melissa and Doug Classic Wooden Peg Puzzles

These puzzles are bright and engaging and promote hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and fine motor skills. The pegs are the ideal size for young children to grab, and the puzzles are made from high-quality, sanded wood. This set of three puzzles includes an alphabet, numbers and mix-and-match color puzzle.

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Best My First Library Boxset of 10 Board Books for Kids

My First Library Boxset of 10 Board Books for Kids

Reading to kids is the best way to develop their vocabulary, language and literacy. Since this box set includes 10 books on diverse learning topics, it ensures they hear a wide variety of words. Plus, the board books are sturdy and durable, so babies can look at the bright pictures independently.

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Best Echo Dot 4th Gen Kids

Echo Dot (4th Gen) Kids

If you’re looking for a helpful device without a screen, this kids’ Echo Dot has an abundance of features, including setting an alarm, playing music and calling parent-approved family and friends. It’s also compatible with Audible, so kids can listen to their favorite books. Parents can also set daily time limits or filter age-appropriate books and music.

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Best Yoto Player Kids Audio Player

Yoto Player Kids Audio Player

With tactile controls, this audio player encourages fine motor skills, as well as creativity and language development. All content is on audio cards that children can insert independently and feature audiobooks, music, phonics, math and personalized cards to create your own audio. It also functions as a clock, night light and sleep trainer.

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Best Kindle Paperwhite Kids

Kindle Paperwhite Kids

While screen time should be limited or cut out entirely depending on age, you can use some screens for good. This Kindle is an excellent device for older children who can read independently, and it also has Audible to read books to younger children. Plus, it’s water-resistant to protect against accidental spills or immersion and is completely ad-free.

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Best Time Timer 60 Minutes

Time Timer 60 Minutes

Whether you’re trying to cut out screen time or set limits, this timer is an excellent tool to help manage screen time. As a visual timer that kids can see and follow along with, it provides a calm transition for all ages. It also has an optional audible alert for a sound-sensitive environment or to avoid distractions.

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Bre Richey writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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