Impact of Screen Time on Young Children’s Development

By Joanna Fortune

Premature and prolonged access to screen based devices can have a negative impact on developing children across all areas of their development including sleep, weight, behaviour, mental health and even motor skills development.  The research tells us that the best advice for parents of young children is no screen time under 18 months old and a limited amount thereafter with a maximum of an hour a day beyond 2 years old.  This is largely because the critical period for brain development in young children is 0-3 years old.  Young developing brains cannot process the multiple forms of stimuli screen based devices deliver and as such young children get over stimulated and are unable to process or regulate their brains resulting in behavioural meltdowns.


In reality many children are spending much longer than this on such devices and this is impacting on the very skills most parents are seeking to work on with their young child. Their ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s emotions and connect with them, to build a large vocabulary are all negatively impacted upon with excessive screen use at this young age.


Schools report that young children are having difficulty gripping and holding a pencil or developing handwriting skills because their fine motor skills are under developed as a result of too much screen time.  If you read this and are concerned about that in your child you can start to address it now with simple and small changes.  Limit the screen time and introduce access to play-doh, have them use and pick up other items using a grip tweezers (under your supervision), practice pulling the zipper up and down on coats, painting with cotton buds because the grip is small and tight, or lacing up ribbons or shoe laces.


Develop some screen play alternatives.  Create a treasure map either around your house (if raining) or outdoors and have your children follow clues (drawn or written) to track down a treat at the end.  The treat can be a baking session with you or a nature walk. 

Develop a check-list before they are allowed onto the screens.  Such as 

  • Have you shared a story with someone today?
  • Have you told and been told a joke today?
  • Have you spent at least 20 minutes playing outdoors today?
  • Have you done two chores to help around the house today?

The answer must be yes to the above before screens are handed over.  With very young children you can ask and answer the questions of them saying “Have I shared a story or a laugh or been outdoors with my child today” etc.


Screens are an unavoidable part of our lives these days and they are not going away so it will help you in your parenting to develop a proactive plan about ensuring they are a small part of you and your child’s daily activities rather than the main activity they engage with.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.