The Critical Impact Of Screen Time On Child Development

We are living in times wherein the total time children spend watching screens are at alarming levels and is therefore a big topic for almost all parents. When we are talking about the impact of screen time on child development, we are talking about not just television or smartphones but also iPads, game consoles, computers and laptops, among others.

In this article:

  1. Screen Time and Brain Development in Toddlers
  2. How Does Screen Time Affect Child Development?
  3. How Much TV is Too Much for a 4 Year Old?
  4. Is Having TV On in the Background Bad for Babies?
  5. How Does Content Affect a Child’s Social Development?
  6. Best Way to Have Screen Time With Your Child

Screen Time and Brain Development in Toddlers

Health authorities in many countries suggest, and many research studies across the world conclude, that there should be zero screen time for kids up to the age of at least 2 years. But unfortunately this is not happening in a vast majority of homes, therefore raising the discussion about the impact of screen time on child development.

An average 1 year old watches not less than an hour of TV every day. Some studies say that by the time children are 4 years old, they’re watching it for an average of 3 hours a day if not more.

Early childhood is considered the most important period for brain development, as it is designed to develop and grow by exploring the environment and people within and interacting with them.

But when you put a child in front of a screen for multiple hours, they become functionally passive, especially from the physical movement perspective.

This means they’re neither exploring nor interacting with their environment, which is a skill in itself, therefore delaying their development both in terms of attention and language.

Physically being passive can have adverse impacts beyond just physical. For instance, a child learns to roll over by the 5th or 6th month and crawl anytime around 9 months.

Crawling is a critical physical motion which happens along with a lot of visual input, which helps in developing a specific part of the brain in the child that helps him/her be able to read in the future.

Therefore, if a child doesn’t learn to crawl at the right time or doesn’t crawl enough, it could have an adverse impact on the growth of that specific part of the brain that develops the child’s ability to read.

How Does Screen Time Affect Child Development?

Let’s look at two scenarios.

Scenario 1: A 2 year old child viewing content (mostly of very low standards) on a flat screen and experiencing screen time, which is just 2-Dimensional screen.

Scenario 2: A 2 year old child who is playing with a ball in the garden and enjoying the experience by tapping it to bounce and learning how to catch it in the process.

Unlike the screen time, which is just a 2-dimensional experience, playing in the garden with the ball is a 3-dimensional experience.

When your child is in the physical world, unlike the flat screen, there’s really a world of difference in the way he or she experiences, as the experience happens across all the 5 senses, namely seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting.

Unlike the virtual world, the real world experience across the 5 senses enables a greater level of learning and provides a better level of understanding of the world around him/her.

This is by far one of the main reasons why parents should say no to screen time, at least till their child is 2 years old – ideally 4.

How Much TV is Too Much for a 4 Year Old?

Many health authority guidelines strongly suggest parents to limit screen time to between 1 to 2 hours for toddlers (2 to 4 years) and not more, so that the impact of screen time on child development is very minimal and never adverse.

This means that for the first 12 months, the screen time should be zero! Having said, many child development experts argue that it should be zero ideally till age 4, as there can be no real value-add from screen time until they are 4 years old.

There may be a few shows on TV or games online (very few and far in between) that may be interactive in nature and help toddlers and young children to learn a few things, but they can be useful only if their parents assist them with their learning.

How Does Content Affect a Child’s Social Development?

There are many studies which show that the impact of screen time on child development hinges a lot on the nature of content children watch, which may have an adverse emotional impact in them.

There are many research studies that prove that if children watch content which is aggressive or even beyond aggressive, it could induce new patterns of behaviour in them that looks similar to the content.

If parents are closely observing their child, which they should, they will definitely be able to see a clear cause-and-effect of their children’s behaviour.

That’s not all. Many studies also show that teens who are repeatedly exposed to tobacco and alcohol commercials are far more likely to pick up the habit of smoking and drinking, and the likelihood goes way up if they have someone in their peer group who smokes and drinks.

That’s why it is important that both parents and teachers need to know about the 8 best ways to stimulate brain development, which includes social and emotional development, dring early childhood years.

The Best Way to Have Screen Time with Your Child

The best way to make TV viewing or screen time a positive or constructive experience that adds value to your children, be it a movie, a popular show, a documentary or even a cartoon show, is to have an interaction around what you watched together.

Ask them what they think about a particular scene or situation in the show or what someone said in a movie. Ask them what they understood about the scene and if they learned something from the characters, especially the protagonist.

Once you have asked them and have had their understanding, you can now talk about what you think about the show or movie and share what was your learning. This way, you won’t be thrusting what you have learned on them, but will rather be facilitating them to learn – through you.

Is Having TV On in the Background Bad for Babies?

There are many families where parents always have their TV on almost all through the day and it keeps playing in the background. Such parents, research says, will speak to their child just one-third the number of words that parents in homes where the TV does not play in the background speak to their children.

So if the TV is on in your home, it’s going to definitely going to decrease the amount of interaction your child will be having with you. Always remember that there’s absolutely nothing more critical for your child’s development than to be able to regular have verbal communication with you.

Not only does verbal communication help your child to connect with you emotionally, it also helps a great deal in stimulating language development and the ability to learn in general.


The impact of screen time on child development can be severely adverse if not monitored right from a young age. Having said, it’s not that your child should never have screen time at all.

All you need to do is to make conscious decisions, preferably along with your significant other, about how much screen time your child can have and what he or she can watch. It’s all in the balance, and it comes with deliberate practice on a day-to-day basis.

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.