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The Impact on Early Childhood Development

The technological boom of the 1990s has, in many ways, transformed media and its role in the average household. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are growing up in an environment saturated with many forms of digital technology. “Screen time” is a term loosely used to describe sedentary activities spent utilizing television, personal computers, gaming consoles, or hand-held mobile devices (iPad, tablet, smart phone, etc.) for personal or educational purposes. With increased accessibility to such technology, much attention has been given to the influence of media and screen time on the health and development of its youngest consumers, children ages birth to 5 years.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released recommendations on the use of digital technology for young children. According to the AAP, children under 1 years of age should engage in minimal screen time due to the need for hands-on exploration and social interaction with peers and trusted adults. For young children between the ages of 15 to 24 months, the AAP recommends that parents engage children in a co-participatory role when utilizing media containing music, movement, and stories. By co-watching media, caregivers are better able to guide and re-teach content in a way that is meaningful for the developing child. For media consumers between the ages of 3 to 5 years, the AAP recognizes the positive influence of well-designed programs on a preschooler’s cognitive, literacy, and social development; however, such programing is best when used with a dual audience (both parent and child).

While used in moderation, screen time can be an asset to the developing child; however, the AAP identifies several concerns related to a child’s overall health and development associated with excessive screen time. Increased duration of media exposure is associated with increased risk of obesity, disturbance in sleep patterns, overall delays in cognitive development, language and social/emotional development. Excessive screen time for school aged children can result in risk of hyperactivity, emotional and behavioral difficulties, overall school performance, and social difficulties with peers.

For additional resources and assistance in developing a Media Use Plan for your family, visit:

By Rhiannon Miller, LMSW and Jennifer Hurd, LMSW – Mental Health Specialists