From birth to age three, a toddler’s brain grows at a phenomenal rate. Those developing brains make 1 million neural connections per minute. Because their brains are still developing, babies and toddlers don’t process media in the same way as older children and adults.
Sarah Magoun M.D., a pediatrician with Maumee Pediatric Associates emphasizes that “if a toddler is engaged in screen time, they’re not engaged in other things that are important for learning and development. Toddlers, especially, learn by hands-on play and social interaction with the people around them, and they don’t learn those skills if they are engaged with a screen.”
American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations
0 to 18 months
Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
18 to 24 months
Parents may introduce high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
2 to 5 years
Limit screen use to one hour maximum per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
Risks of Too Much Screen Time
When young children are sitting and watching, they are not engaged in active play and are more likely to snack on unhealthy foods.
Lack of Sleep
Dr. Magoun explains that screen time “can interfere with sleep, especially screen time too near bedtime, or if a screen is in the bedroom. We do not recommend any screens in the bedroom or using television to help kids of any age to fall asleep.”
Violent content, including animated or cartoon-related violence, can lead to aggressive behavior.
Screen time inhibits infants and toddlers’ ability to read faces and learn social cues, which are critical for learning language skills. Even educational programming can hinder learning when it replaces face-to-face communication, reading aloud, and unstructured play.
Infant and Toddler Screen Use is High
The Pew Research Center has found that:
- Four months old is the average age that children begin daily media viewing.
- 74 percent of children ages 0-2 watch television daily.
- 50 percent of children ages 0-2 watch YouTube or similar media.
As a parent herself, Dr. Magoun understands: “The screen is a way to get other things done, to have a child be quiet and calm and engaged… but it’s not worth the benefits the parents get from having that extra downtime because, ultimately, the child will suffer for it.”
Screen Time Tips for Toddlers
- Video chatting with parent/caregiver involvement is okay for young children.
- Print books are better for young minds than educational apps and electronic books.
- Monitor screen time content as well as the time spent on screens. Choose high quality educational shows such as those found on Sesame Workshop or PBS.
- Avoid any violent content or content geared to adults or older children.
- Avoid short, user-generated videos such as those that are found on YouTube or TikTok as they don’t allow for a child’s slower processing time.
- Turn the television off when young children are around. Even when children are not directly watching, television negatively impacts language and other development.
Dr. Magoun wants parents “to think about both quality and quantity of time, that it’s important for parents to engage with their young children… early childhood play, social interactions, learning to take turns and real-world experience.”