Screen time linked to developmental delays in young children
08/31/2023 // Zoey Sky // Views

Some parents often entertain bored kids with smartphones or tablets, but a study has revealed that screen time may be linked to developmental delays in younger children.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics and the research team included experts from Japan’s Tohoku University and Hamamatsu University School of Medicine.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 7,097 pairs of mothers and children between 2013 and 2017. To understand the impact of screen time exposure on child development, the researchers asked the mothers how many hours they would allow their younger-than-one-year-old child to watch television, play video games and use mobile phones, tablets and other electronic devices on a regular day.

When the children reached between two and four years of age, the researchers then asked the mothers to rate their child's development in five aspects:

  1. Communication skills, which include babbling, vocalizing and understanding sounds
  2. Gross motor skills, which involve arm, body and leg movement
  3. Fine motor skills, which refers to more sophisticated hand and finger movement
  4. Problem-solving skills, which include learning and playing with toys
  5. Social skills like playing with other children

The researchers found that giving toddlers screen time delayed the development of their communication and problem-solving skills. Toddlers who spend one to four hours in front of a screen also had a higher risk of suffering delays in crucial skills such as controlling their body movement, interacting with their surroundings and socializing with other children.

Meanwhile, toddlers who spent more than four hours a day in front of a screen were the most likely to have developmental delays in all criteria by age two. They were also more likely to have continued delays in both communication and problem-solving skills by age four. (Related: Are screens as bad for toddlers as they say? Study says yes.)

Limiting screen time key to proper child development

The study noted that some Japanese mothers tend to let their children use electronic devices for hours. These women are usually young, first-time mothers, come from low-income households, have poor maternal education and suffer from postpartum depression.

The researchers acknowledged the difficulty for modern parents to reduce their children's screen time and advised them to watch high-quality educational programs with their children if exposure is unavoidable.

The researchers explained that while screen time has been linked to developmental delays, it "may have an educational aspect depending on the programs watched on electronic devices."

The researchers cited a study published in JAMA which reported that screen time spent on educational programs was "associated with increased language skills among young children, especially when watched with a parent."

Tips for limiting screen time for children

In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children younger than two get no screen time at all except when it is a live video chat with family members or friends, which is considered quality interaction with other people.

However, in 2016, the AAP revised their guidelines. While children can have screen time starting at 18 months, they still recommend that parents watch a program with their child and guide the child through the experience.

If you want to introduce digital media to children 18 to 24 months of age, start with high-quality programming and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.

If you have children two to five years of age, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programming. Watch shows with your children to help them understand what they are seeing. You can also help them apply what they learn to the world around them.

In 2020, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) updated recommendations on screen time and instructed parents to avoid non-educational usage as much as possible for all children under the age of two.

For children under 18 months, the AACAP recommends limiting screen time to video calls monitored by a caregiver. They also specifically warned against using screens as babysitters, pacifiers or to stop tantrums.

For children between two and five, the AACAP recommends limiting "non-educational screen time" to one hour on weekdays and three hours on weekends.

The AACAP added that parents and caregivers should talk to children about what they are seeing.

Children can benefit from a parent pointing out good behavior, like concern for others, cooperation and friendship. Parents were also advised to encourage children to learn other activities that do not involve screens, like art, music, sports and other screen-free hobbies.

Parents can also set a good example by having "safe and healthy screen habits."

Stay updated on the latest games, apps and social media platforms to learn how these forms of media are rated. This can help you prevent your child from consuming violent video games or other inappropriate media.

If device usage is a problem, set up "tech-free zones" at home to encourage your child to focus on other activities like reading or playing outdoors.

Visit for more articles on how technology affects human health.

Watch the video below to learn how the government is using smart home gadgets to spy on you.

This video is from the High Hopes channel on

More related stories:

Are you feeling down? A digital detox can help improve your well-being, says experts.

Study: Excessive screen time during COVID-19 lockdowns impaired children’s sense of balance.

Excessive use of video games, social media and the internet linked to poor academic performance.

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