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Excessive Screen Time in Young Children is Associated with Developmental Delay

According to researchers, limiting children’s time with electronic devices is no easy task, but it can be done.

Giving a child access to electronic devices may be the easiest way to keep them calm, but is giving over a tablet or a phone doing the child long-term harm?

You see, there’s nothing wrong with playing a video game or watching a cartoon occasionally, but a new study shows that excessive screen time can affect a child’s long-term development.

The 21st-century child grows up with unprecedented and unrestricted access to all kinds of gadgets.

Beginning at toddler age, most kids spend a greater part of their day staring at a screen rather than engaging in physical activity or interacting with their peers.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that excessive screen time impeded development in children. The study looked at 2,400 Canadian children. The study found that children between the ages of 2 to 3 with greater amounts of screen time had significantly poorer performance when their development was assessed at ages 3 to 5.

A population-based cross-sectional study in India found a similar result. The researchers assessed 718 Indian children ages 5 and younger. 396 children were from rural communities, while 322 were from urban regions. Their development was assessed, and the results were analyzed against estimated screentime use. The study found that higher screen time use was associated with developmental delays in rural and urban children.

With these findings, it is obvious that there is a problem. So the question is… “how do you guide your child’s use of gadgets and electronic devices?”

Let’s consider the problem with screens

Unstructured playtime is more helpful for the development of a young child’s brain compared to electronic media. Children below 2 years of age are more likely to learn and recall information from a live presentation than what they watch on a video.

From 2 years of age, children benefit immensely from certain types of screen time, for instance, stories, movement, and programming with music. Sitting with your child during their screen time can help them understand what they are seeing and how it can be applied in real life. Nevertheless, passive screen time should not take the place of playing, reading, and problem-solving.

As your child gets older, understand that excessive or poor-quality screen time contributes to:

  • Violence
  • Obesity
  • Loss of social skills
  • Behavioral problems
  • Irregular sleep schedules and poor quality of sleep
  • Very little or no playtime

Establishing rules for screen time

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, media use by children younger than 18–24 months of age should be discouraged. The only exception here should be when used for video chatting. If you introduce children within this age bracket to digital media, you have to ensure high quality, and access to it should be under your supervision. For children 2–5 years of age, screen time should be limited to one hour daily, and the programming should be of very high quality.

Note that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work well as the child grows. Instead, you have to decide how much media your child can access daily and appropriate for them.

Whatever rules you create should be applied to both virtual and real environments. Note, when creating these boundaries, do it with love and kindness, play with your child, know your child’s friends and how they relate with each other. You should also note that the quality of media your child accesses is more important than the amount of time spent or the type of technology used.

Here’s how to ensure quality screen time

· Preview all games, apps, and programs before allowing your child access to them. You can determine appropriate content with the help of Common Sense Media and other such organizations. On the other hand, you can watch, use, or play with your child.

· Filter or block internet content with parental controls

· Seek out high-quality interactive options that engage your child instead of programs that only require staring, swiping, or pushing at the screen.

· Stay close by your child during screen time so that you can supervise their activities.

· Educate your child on whatever programs you may be watching.

It is important to note that young children have difficulty gasping fast-paced programming, violent media, and apps with plenty of distracting content. So, avoid these. Eliminate adverts on apps. Young children usually find it hard to differentiate between ads and factual information.

How about older children?

You will have to limit screen time for older children, especially if it interferes with their involvement in other activities. The following tips will help:

  • Discourage the use of digital media/entertainment during homework or study time
  • Unstructured playtime should be prioritized
  • Install and use apps that control the length of time your child can use a device.
  • Set aside tech-free times or zones, for instance, one night weekly or during mealtime.
  • Set weekly or daily screen time curfews. For instance, you may restrict access to screens or devices at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Do not put screens in your children’s bedroom.
  • Put away background TV

Managing screen time in young children may be a continuous challenge. But you can help them have a safe and great experience by establishing rules — and revisiting them as your child grows.


Madigan S, Browne D, Racine N, Mori C, Tough S. Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(3):244–250. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056

Varadarajan S, Govindarajan Venguidesvarane A, Ramaswamy KN, Rajamohan M, Krupa M, Winfred Christadoss SB. Prevalence of excessive screen time and its association with developmental delay in children aged <5 years: A population-based cross-sectional study in India. PLoS One. 2021;16(7): e0254102. Published 2021 Jul 6. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0254102

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