Babies, Toddlers and Screen Time

I don’t intend for this post to be overly negative, but I am concerned. I’m concerned that screens (iPads, phones, computers, and etc) are being overused by very young children at the baby and toddler age level. There are many concepts that children can learn through the use of hand held devices. But grown-ups, please be aware that there are many skills that screens cannot teach children. Screens have limitations in early learning. There is little research available, but the following are a few anecdotal observations that I have made.

Babies, Toddlers and Screen Time

Screens can’t…

Replace conversation with your child: When parents talk to their child we respond to their questions and engage in conversational turn-taking.  One person makes a statement, and the other person responds. Children learn to read facial expressions and body language through their exeriences with other people.  Screens can’t teach these pragmatic, conversational skills.

Replace reading to your child: When grown-ups read to children we often ask questions about a story. We relate the story to the interests of the child. We talk about the pictures.  All of this interaction develops a child’s language and pre-literacy skills. As we read together we share inside jokes and giggles that are personal and that connect the story to our child’s life. Children ask questions and we respond to them. We bond with our children as we read to them and have our cozy bedtime routine or story time together. 

Support fine motor development: To develop fine motor skills children need to hold and manipulate crayons, paintbrushes, and pencils in their hands. They need to build with blocks. Sliding a finger across a screen cannot replicate the physical manipulation of these tools and objects. There may be puzzle apps, but they cannot replicate the physical act of holding a puzzle piece, turning it, looking at the shape and colors, and sliding it into place. A screen cannot provide the sensory input and physical exercise that play dough provides as it is squished in small hands.

Screen Free Options:

  • To suport the development of conversation and social skills have a screen free meal together
  • Create a screen free zone in your home
  • When in the car, have time when the family is just listening to music, playing an on-the-go game like this one or this one.
  • When you’re fixing a meal, have your child draw a picture about the best part of the day, or let them help set the table or prepare the meal as they are capable.
  • This blog, Creative Connections for Kids, is full of inexpensive ideas that are all about connecting and playing with your kids!  :)

It may sound as if I think that screens are the scourage of the earth. I really don’t. I understand that they can be an absolute lifesaver on the the plane, in the doctor’s office, and etc.  There are definitely skills and concepts that they teach preschoolers. However, please be aware of their limitations.

Regarding children under the age of two years the American Academy of Pediatrics states: “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”


There is very little research available regarding young children and screens, but here are articles that address screens and children. I will add more as I find them:

Q&A with John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Babies

Ellen Galinsky – Texting, TV and Tech Trashing Children’s Attention Span

Common Sense Media – How to Set Screen Rules That Stick

Wall Street Journal – What Happens When a Toddler Zones Out on an iPad

Psychology Today – Is It Okay to Let Your Toddler Play with an iPad?




2 comments to Babies, Toddlers and Screen Time

  • I use iPads within my program that sees infants up interacting/exploring them. I agree that screen time should be an area to be evaluated in regards to both how and why it is being used with children. The apps need to be evaluated and why children are having access to them needs to be considered.
    I see technology as being another tool to be used with intention in the education of young children. As with any tool used there needs to be the interaction with a responding adult.

    I personally hate to see a child just being pushed off as a bother. It doesn’t matter if its with a puzzle, book, or iPad (technology).

    What I hear you saying in this posting is that it’s about importance of there being interaction between individuals. I agree that is the key to children learning.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment Debbie. You have captured the essence of what I am saying. The interaction between child and adult or child and child is of utmost importance.