Can Screen Time Slow Your Child’s Development?

A few decades ago, you might find a couple children’s programs on each morning that were geared towards toddlers and preschoolers.  Shows like Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, and even Sesame Street and Mister Rogers were rather unique and scarce.  By contrast, today all broadcast TV stations provide some form of educational children’s programming and there are multiple cable stations whose programming is geared entirely to these youngest of viewers.

With the increase in children’s “screen time” has come concerns about the effects on young bodies as well as the developing brain.  This connection and the severity of the effects were the subject of a study conducted at the University of Calgary in Canada.

For the study, the research chair of child development, along with her colleagues, followed over 24,000 children in the area. They utilized screening tools to test communication, problem-solving, social and motor skills, then followed up with the parents at 2, 3 and 5 years of age.

To correlate, they also recorded the amount of time the children typically spent with an electronic device: watching tv, using a computer, playing video games or playing on a tablet or cell phone.  Initial reports from the parents showed that children were spending an average of 2-3 hours per day in screen time.  This is well above the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  The official AAP recommendation for children ages 2-5 is no more than 1 hour of high-quality programming.

Researchers found that higher levels of screen time at age 24 and 36 months was associated with poor performance developmental milestones at 36 and 60 months respectively.  While those with more screen time tended to display lower developmental skills, those with lower skills were not necessarily the children with higher screen time.  Researchers determined this was evidence that it is screen time in itself that leads to lower developmental skills.

The specific mechanics of that connection have not yet been specifically identified, but several theories exist.  First, the more obvious, is that if a child is sitting in front of a screen, they are not walking, running, playing, interacting with an adult or another child.  It is in performing these tasks, that children improve those gross motor skills.

Additionally, the positive stimulation from interaction with parents or other caregivers helps a child’s physical and cognitive development.  When a child is watching a show, they are missing out on those interactions.  As children age, there is certainly an argument for periods of time to be spent with “high quality” programming that can promote learning.  However, in the cases of very young children who are not able to have meaningful interactions with the programming, it appears that there is no such benefit.

Another theory involves the bright lights and repetition of the digital interface. The young brain may be trained by the repetitive flashing lights rather than the motions and actions needed to hone their motor skills.

This is a new field of research and much more is yet to be learned.  For now, research chair and lead author, Sheri Madigan, offers these suggestions:

  • Limit kids’ screen time by following the AAP recommendations.
  • Develop a family media plan. Decide how, when and where devices are to be used.  Cultivate healthy habits around the use of devices.
  • Serve as media mentors: monitor your own screen use and model good behavior.
  • Sit with kids and participate in their screen time, rather than using it as a babysitter.

TV can be a convenient way to appease a child while you are doing a quick task, but it is important to not fall into a habit of excessive screen time.  Providing ample time for the child to practice gross motor skills and have personal interactions is vital to help the child grow and develop as a strong and healthy individual with good health habits.

Screen time can also contribute to bad posture habits, such as slouched viewing for longer periods of time and tech neck from viewing portable devices.  Growing up tall and healthy is easier with regular chiropractic check-ups.  Even without the pitfalls of screen viewing, with all the bumps, tumbles and falls of childhood, your chiropractor can help ensure that your child’s spine is properly aligned, allowing the body to function and grow at its best.  Additionally, your chiropractor can assist you with starting your child out with good ergonomic and posture habits for screen time activities.

Talk to your doctor at your next visit about how to protect your child and teach healthy habits for electronics.  If you don’t have a chiropractor, you can find a doctor near you at


Madigan S, Browne D, Racine N, Mori C, Tough S. Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test. JAMA Pediatr.  Published online January 28, 2019173(3):244–250.  doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056

Thompson D.  Can Too Much Screen Time Hinder Child Development?  WebMD News from HealthDay.

Coldewey D.  Screen time inhibits toddler development, study finds.