Service of Screen Time for Toddlers & Children: None to Little is Best

April 29th, 2019

Categories: Kids, Reading, Technology

I was on a Manhattan bus stuck in traffic last Saturday. Just outside my window was a fascinating feat of construction dexterity. Sitting across from me was a little boy glued to his phone as his parents were to theirs. He missed the giant beams balanced in the teeth of a construction truck inching to their temporary resting place inches away.

Countless toddlers similarly stare at phone and tablet screens while the person pushing their strollers chats on the phone. Both miss opportunities to communicate as well as fun things to see from dogs and store windows to characters on the city streets they pass in a place like Manhattan.

Turns out the children are doing more harm to themselves than substituting one dimensional scenes for the world around them. According to, “The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use, except for video-chatting, by children younger than 18 to 24 months. If you want to introduce digital media to children ages 18 to 24 months, make sure it’s high quality and avoid solo media use. For children ages 2 to 5, limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programming.”

The Mayo reported that “too much poor quality screen time has been linked to: obesity, violence, loss of social skills, irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep and behavioral problems.”

New World Health Organization guidelines used even stronger language. The title of Jen Juneau’s article in People is “World Health Organization Now Recommends No Screen Time for Children Age 1 and Younger.” Instead, parents and caregivers should do what many have done for decades: read and tell stories to their children. For children up to two, WHO doesn’t recommend they watch TV or videos or play computer games either.

Juneau wrote: “With children aged 2 to 4, ‘sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better.’” She added that some experts disagree. “The WHO’s advice ‘focuses on quantity of screen time and fails to consider the content and context of use.’” said the director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.

“The new WHO guidelines come almost three months after a study published in JAMA Pediatrics that found that ‘Excessive screen time has been associated with various negative outcomes, including cognitive delays and poorer academic performance’ in children,” Juneau reported.

According to the study on, “children younger than age 2 are more likely to learn and remember information from a live presentation than they are from a video.”

I conjecture that plenty of parents think they are giving their children a leg up by starting them on computers as young as possible. Others may appreciate quiet time when a little one is absorbed by colors and movements on a screen. Publicity about the WHO’s recommendations came out last week and yet I still see countless toddlers in strollers staring at phone screens. Goodness knows what’s happening at home. What will it take for caregivers to get the message about the dangers of screen time for young children? Do you see benefits for little ones to be conversant with the latest gadgets since babyhood? Is reading and telling stories to little ones out of style?

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11 Responses to “Service of Screen Time for Toddlers & Children: None to Little is Best”

  1. ASK Said:

    It’s simply too easy to distract infants and toddlers with screens…and parents who seem even more obsessed with their screens are certainly not setting a good example. It’s like telling people not to reach for the ice cream or potato chips; go for the kale…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    No doubt, but many of the same parents don’t make a move without consulting specialists and friends vis a vis their kids’ welfare. I believe most parents want to do the best for their children.

    It took a long time for the truth about cigarettes and wearing seatbelts to filter into the American psyche yet many still smoke and don’t bother with seatbelts. Some still believe inoculating kids against disease can be detrimental. Nevertheless, here’s to hope in the screen time issue. This–and any–country needs to cultivate smart children.

  3. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie wrote on Facebook: I cannot address this issue but I see it in my family and families I see in public (mall or department stores). I was actually thinking about that when I saw an 18 month old holding something the size of a cell phone watching a video in his stroller (quite content).

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I admired the dexterity and focus of little ones and didn’t realize just how bad it could be for their health and their futures. One reason I wrote about it was to help spread the word. As I mentioned in the full post I felt that when kids were absorbed with their phones while out and about they were missing a lot of interesting activity going on around them.

  5. Paula Cecere Smith Said:

    Paula wrote on Facebook: We keep devices away from Savannah but have to admit we watch Sesame Street (it’s so clever!). She loves the characters (and honestly, it’s a nice little break).

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My bet is that you read to Savannah more often than you watch Sesame Street and that you tell her stories too and play with her.

  7. Paula Cecere Smith Said:

    Paula wrote on Facebook: Oh yes, there’s lots of play time and reading.

  8. BC Said:

    Unfortunately, computers/ games have become baby sitters for toddlers up thru high school. Parents do not monitor use, as the kids are quiet while using them.

    I am all for educational use of computers, and they are in the grade schools now too. Some private schools use the computers for all school work.

    Too many kids are not mixing with their peers, or doing sports much anymore. They are couch potatoes! They have too much exposure to unsavory people and TV programs at an early age. One sees ads for condoms, KY jelly, viagra type
    drugs, etc. on TV and in adds on the computer. This is not healthy for our children/ society.

    Professionals have a hard time selling preventive pediatrics- drug safety in the home, fences around pools, no cigarettes or marijuana, use of seat belts, etc. let alone monitoring computer use.

    Sadly, our entertainment exploits violence whether on TV or computers at an early age. No easy answers here, monitoring computer use is just one piece of the pie.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m exhausted reading all the issues and problems. I understand what a blessing silence can be in comparison to a fussing or screaming child but it would seem that at least in the first few years before drugs and observing violence become an issue a parent can start baby off in the right direction and off all screens if he/she knows of the potential danger.

    There will always people who do things for the wrong reasons. There was a pretty child in first grade whose blond hair matched her mother’s. Both used the same bottle of dye, a choice the mother made to look younger without a thought of the long-term damage to her 6 year old or the young one’s hair.

    And with so many temptations and distractions to bat away from kids, monitoring computer use is no doubt number 23 or lower on any list. However, the report did focus on the youngest–those over whom parents have more control.

  10. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie wrote on Facebook: You are spot on! Parents & people in general need to exercise restraint to reduce dependence & enormous amounts of time attached to devices. We will most certainly have millions more people suffering hearing loss at much earlier ages from earphones overuse at detrimental volumes

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are yet more devices to deal with hearing loss but what do we do about brains that have turned to mush as a result of a too-early reliance on passive observation that kicks to the curb learning the old fashioned and effective way? We currently suffer the impact of the dumbing down of America. We do future generations no favors to make it easy for demagogues to bamboozle and cheat them.

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