Screen time: Helpful or Harmful?

Screen time: Helpful or Harmful?

Technology and screen time are a dominant force in our society.  Most families own multiple TV’s, cellphones, tablets, or computers. Some families even have a tablet or cellphone for each member of the household. Which brings us to the bigger question: Is screen time safe for my little one?   

What constitutes screen time?

Simply put, screen time is time spent using a device such as a computer, television, or gaming console. There are two different ways your little one can acquire screen time.  They can be actively engaged in screen time or passively engaged. The difference is profound.

Active versus Passive Screen time:

  • What is active?
    • The child will use cognitive and/or physical engagement in the activity.  This might include activities like making Youtube videos, playing educational games, editing pictures, or coding a website. While actively participating in screen time, your child is expected to reply, draw a picture, create or move. More than that, language, social and physical skills are developing. Language skills are further increased when the child is engaged in a direct social exchange with a familiar person to them.  For example, a child using Facetime or Skype with a Grandparent who lives out-of-state or in a different country, or with a deployed parent.  According to (Radesky,, 2016), children can learn social engagement at a faster rate when using a device to interact with familiar people to them.  This is due to the active participation, and motivation they have to interact with the person on the screen.
  • What is passive?
    • The child will passively absorb information from the screen or consumes an app or a game through mindless repetition. Passive activities can include monitoring social media, watching videos on Youtube (especially if autoplay is on, i.e. the next video is not watched for any reason other than that it was offered), playing repetitive games and binge watching shows.
    • The main characteristic of passive screen time is that no thought, creativity or interaction is required to progress.

Negative Consequences of screen time?

Excessive parental overuse of mobile devices is correlated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between the parent and child, and may also be associated with parent-child conflict (Radesky et al., 2015)

What are the doctors saying?

Pediatrician’s recommend a 10-2-1-0 daily mnemonic, and * NO screen time for babies under 2 years of age *

10 – hours of sleep

 2 – hours of screen time

 1  – hour of physical activity

 0 – sugary drinks

According to Psychologist Georgene Troseth, of Vanderbilt University, Skype and Facetime can also contribute to carryover of language skills, and executive functioning skills. Troseth says “We are finding pretty consistently in fact, two recent studies with actual Skype calls, that children do seem to learn better when there is a social interaction from a person on video.”

Children are experts at mimicking what they see. If all they see is their caregiver on a phone or tablet all day, that is what they will want to be doing too.  This could lead to decreased language development, and decreased socialization with peers and adults. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies reveal that consistent exposure to passive screen time demonstrates marked decreases in language development, reading skills, short term memory, and compromised sleep and attention skills.  

What is realistic?

Realistically, we live in a world of technology. We also live in a world where most caregivers work, and have to juggle many important responsibilities and needs for their child/children.  Which means, there will be days and times when turning on a movie, or game for your child will allow you to accomplish other tasks. For example, making dinner, doing laundry, feeding a younger sibling, or even going to the bathroom alone!


Use this link by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to check, and create, your individualized Family Media Use Plan.



  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Media and young minds.(e20162591)Pediatrics. 2016; 138
  2. Russo Johnson, C., Troseth, G., Duncan, C. A., Mesghina, A. (2017). All tapped out: Touchscreen interactivity and young children’s word learning. Frontiers in Psychology. 8(578). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00578.
  3. Radesky, J., Miller, A., Rosenblum, K., Appugliese, D., Dacirot, N., and Lumeng, J. Maternal mobile device use during a structured parent-child interaction task. Academic Pediatrics. 2015; 15: 238–244

One Comment on “Screen time: Helpful or Harmful?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.