Screen Time Guidelines For Young Kids

Surinder Sharma
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October 5, 2020

We live in an era of screens with no escape. Adults, teenagers, the elderly and young children all have easy access to screens. The usage of screens and technology has become increasingly unavoidable and rather essential to everyday efficiency and connectivity with the world. This has been further confirmed by the COVID-19 pandemic where all learning has become home-based and remote, requiring some form of screen time. Most schools and colleges are conducting online and virtual classes for even very young elementary school students. Dance, music, ballet, and karate lessons are also being provided virtually via screens using internet or mobile technology.

Up until recently there has been a general consensus that all screen time is harmful for children and not beneficial for learning. This is mostly because a majority of research on screen time was conducted with TV, which is not representative of all types of screens. Recent research has shown that not all screen time is harmful for children and screens/technology that provide feedback and positive social interaction can actually benefit children in their early learning. One example is research suggesting that toddlers can learn vocabulary words equally well from a virtual Skype session on a computer screen as they would have through an in-person interaction (Roseberry et al., 2014). Additionally, a 2016 study revealed that 4-6 year olds were able to apply logic puzzle strategies learned from a 2D app to a real life 3D model (Huber, 2016).

According to a 2015 article, apps designed to promote active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning—four "pillars" of learning—within the context of a supported learning goal are considered educational (Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy, et al, 2015). This article aims to guide researchers, educators, and designers in evidence-based app development along with setting a new standard for evaluating and selecting the most effective existing children's apps. Educational apps that are developed to keep in view these four pillars of learning are the ones that should be presented more actively to children during their screen time.

It is quite clear that adults need to take the time to choose the content as well as the technology for their children's screen time. In addition to parents choosing educational apps with high quality content, that is "just right" for children (Hutton, Dudley et al, 2019) while also prioritizing online safety, screen time for children needs to be controlled by parents. Here are five important guidelines to help parents do that:

  1. Monitor Content: There is a lot of content that is inappropriate for children. No matter how much content is verified by the platform, there is always some content that seeps through filters and presents itself to children. Curated content build specifically for children is important. Animation, a concept that was primarily designed with children in mind, has shown to be worse than auditory content for children's reading comprehension. It is the parents responsibility to be aware of everything the child is exposed to on screens. If possible, try to make it as interactive as possible while avoiding passive content consumption.
  2. Positive Versus Negative Screen Time: It is key for every parent to understand the difference between positive screen time and negative screen time. An example of positive screen time would be the time children spend on online classes and educational apps. Negative screen time would be the time spent watching TV or playing video games, activities that have no educational benefit and are purely for entertainment purposes. Moreover, screen time should always be limited and reserved for education and learning.
  3. Bond With Positive Screen Time: Avoid using phones and constantly checking social media around children. Try reading books aloud with children. This will help you bond with them and provide them with a positive learning experience. Avoid running distractions such as the TV in the background and discourage placing televisions or other devices in bedrooms.
  4. Evaluate Technology and Apps: While many technology companies are working towards making their products child-safe and giving parents more control by the introduction of parental controls, parents still need to evaluate the apps and technology and be able to distinguish between distracting entertainment apps and educational apps that offer deep learning without the bells and whistles.
  5. Educate Yourself and Your Child: Trying to avoid screens as a whole is impossible in today's world. The world is becoming more and more dependent on screens,because technology has manifested itself into every aspect of life. However, technology has the potential to do harmful physical and mental damage to young children. For this reason, it is the responsibility of parents to educate themselves and their children about the right technology, the right content, the educational quality of mobile apps, and how to avoid online dangers and keep children safe. Social Media can be a very dangerous place for young children and should be discouraged until they reach a certain age and maturity.

Education technology has seen a massive boom in 2020 after the pandemic, enabling children to continue their learning remotely and safely from home. While research on the effects of screen time on young children is continuous and ongoing, we might expect to learn much more from new studies in the coming years. One thing that will remain unchanged is the importance of parents monitoring and controlling children's screen time especially in the early years of learning and development.


  1. Roseberry, Sarah, Kathy Hirsh‐Pasek, and Roberta M. Golinkoff. "Skype me! Socially contingent interactions help toddlers learn language." Child Development 85.3 (2014): 956-970.
  2. Huber, Brittany, et al. "Young children's transfer of learning from a touchscreen device." Computers in Human Behavior 56 (2016): 56-64.
  3. Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy, et al. "Putting Education in 'Educational' Apps: Lessons From the Science of Learning." Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol. 16, no. 1, May 2015, pp. 3–34, doi: 10.1177/1529100615569721.
  4. Hutton, John & Dudley, Jonathan & Horowitz-Kraus, Tzipi & DeWitt, Tom & Holland, Scott. (2019). Functional Connectivity of Attention, Visual and Language Networks During Audio, Illustrated and Animated Stories in Preschool-Age Children. Brain Connectivity. 9. 10.1089/brain.2019.0679.