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Kids and Screens: What the Experts Have to Say

Kids and Screens: What the Experts Have to Say


My husband and I love to go out to new restaurants in our hometown of Atlanta for our weekly date night. What can we say… we are foodies! While going out to eat is fun in and of itself, I also love going because it is a primetime people-watching opportunity. I love looking at interactions of young couples and guessing whether or not they are on a first date. I also enjoy seeing family interactions and making guesses about the type of lifestyle they lead (do I sound creepy?). One thing I have frequently noticed is how most of the time, children are either on a tablet or their parent’s phone. The child is usually completely immersed in whatever is on that screen, missing out the intricate world of social interactions that surrounds them (Not to mention the adults are doing the same thing).

Being a (almost) developmental psychologist, I cannot help but wonder how this screen time is affecting children.  I am sure parents have wondered the same thing, since the constant use of screens as a form of entertainment is a fairly new phenomenon.

Unfortunately, few articles have been published about this topic.  While the American Pediatric Association has established guidelines for screen-use in children younger than two, few of the risks, negative effects, or benefits of screen time has been established in young children. However, there are some key findings regarding the use of screens.

1)  Screen time robs your child from learning crucial social skills. A vast amount of research shows that children learn social skills through live interactions (i.e., actually interacting with other people). If your child is locked on a screen, then they are missing out on vital social interaction that supports social development (though some evidence suggests that learning can occur via a screen if there is an actual interaction (like a Skype session), as opposed to passively watching). With this little tidbit in mind, the time that your child spends on the phone is time he or she is missing out on opportunities to engage with others.

2)  Screen time has also been linked to obesity. Studies have shown that the more tv’s there are in a household (especially if it is in the child’s bedroom) and the more time spent watching tv, the more likely a child is to be obese. Now that we have tablets and mobile phones, we basically have access to a “tv” at all times! Keep in mind that studies like these cannot establish a causal relation. In other words, they cannot claim that tv causes a child to be obese. However, similar to the logic in point 1, time spent looking at screens is time that your child is not being active.

3)  Screen time also has potential consequences for teenagers using social media. There is a lot of research showing that teens who spend more time on social media are also more likely to report less satisfaction and have higher symptoms of depression. From these findings, we can infer that being on social media exposes children to online bullying, comparing themselves to unrealistic expectations and not spending time doing other more productive and beneficial activities.

While the research on screen time and children is quite limited, there are more findings regarding screen time and adults. For example, research has found that adults who spend more time looking at a screen (whether it be a computer or a phone) are more likely to have sleep problems. In addition, researchers say that the more time we spend on Facebook, the more likely we are to have a negative mood and be dissatisfied with our own life (as if millennials needed help with this, am I right???).

If these negative consequences apply to adults, I can imagine that it could apply to developing children as well. Therefore, the above findings should give us pause in regards to how much time children (and adults for that matter) should be using screens.

I will be going to International Conference of Infant Studies (ICIS - pronounced 'i-kiss'... for good reason) that will touch on this topic, so I will be sure to update you all once more research is out! 

Hope you spend a little less time on your computer today! (as I myself am typing away...)


Disclaimer: While we mostly report robust scientific findings that have been replicated, science is a constantly evolving field, meaning new findings might support or contradict previous findings. We thus encourage parents to be critical of all information before they choose to apply it or dismiss it.

Works Cited

Andersen, L. L., & Garde, A. H. (2015). Sleep problems and computer use during work and leisure: Cross-sectional study among 7800 adults. Chronobiology international32(10), 1367-1372.

De Jong, E., Visscher, T. L. S., HiraSing, R. A., Heymans, M. W., Seidell, J. C., & Renders, C. M. (2013). Association between TV viewing, computer use and overweight, determinants and competing activities of screen time in 4-to 13-year-old children. International journal of obesity, 37(1), 47-53.

Hogan, M., & Bar-on, M. (1999). Media Education. Pediatrics, 104(2), 341-343.

O'Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics127(4), 800-804.

Roseberry, S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2014). Skype me! Socially Contingent Interactions Help Toddlers Learn Language. Child Development, 85(3), 956–970.

Sagioglou, C., & Greitemeyer, T. (2014). Facebook’s emotional consequences: Why Facebook causes a decrease in mood and why people still use it. Computers in Human Behavior35, 359-363.

Strasburger, V. C., Jordan, A. B., & Donnerstein, E. (2010). Health effects of media on children and adolescents. Pediatrics125(4), 756-767.

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