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Navigating Screen Time: Understanding the Impact on Child Development

By December 11, 2023Nesca Notes 2023

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

At school, we have had increasing difficulty with children refusing to leave their car at drop-off because they are on their tablets and do not want to stop what they are doing to go to school. Screen time has long been discussed regarding how much is too much and recommendations offered for limiting screen time. Now, with mobile devices, screens can be taken anywhere. Furthermore, there is never a shortage of entertaining options to engage with, from games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite to YouTube, all of which draw children in and make it difficult to stop. This article aims to provide a nuanced exploration of the impact of screen time on child development. While screen time is not inherently negative, it requires thoughtful management and consideration, particularly in the context of the developmental needs of children.

Screens are pervasive in daily life and have become integrated into the fabric of 21st century family dynamics, mostly due to the numerous ways of engaging with screens. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), children between the ages of eight to 12 spend at least four to six hours a day watching or using screens. According to Common Sense Media, children between birth and eight spend an average of two and one-half hours per day, with children two and under spending approximately 49 minutes on average. While screens can teach and entertain, too much may lead to problems.

Excessive screen time can have a variety of effects on child development. These effects can be physical, cognitive, emotional, and social, and vary depending on the content and purpose of screen time. The is largely due to what children are not doing when they are using screens. Extended periods of screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to obesity, poor posture, and disrupted sleep patterns. In terms of cognitive development, overuse of screens with fast-paced and visually stimulating content can overwhelm a child’s developing brain and potentially affect attention span, impulse control, and the ability to concentrate.  It can also impede the development of language and communication skills. When children spend too much time in front of screens, they may have fewer opportunities to engage in real-life conversations and interactions, which are crucial for language development. And, while educational content can have benefits, excessive screen time can still disrupt the learning process. It may lead to reduced engagement with traditional forms of learning and limit a child’s ability to exercise critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

It is important to note that not all screen time is detrimental. Age-appropriate and high-quality content, as well as supervised and interactive screen time, can have educational and social benefits. Additionally, technology can be a valuable tool for learning and creativity when used in moderation and with parental guidance. Parent and caregivers can help mitigate the potential negative effects of screen time by setting limits, monitoring content, and encouraging a balanced lifestyle that includes a variety of activities, such as physical play, reading, and face-to-face interactions. Sometimes the best conversations happen in the car.



About the Author

Dr. Cynthia (Cindy) Hess conducts neuropsychological evaluations as a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. Dr. Hess enjoys working with children and young adults with complex emotional and behavioral profiles. She is skilled at evaluating social and emotional challenges as well as a range of learning profiles. Her experience allows her to guide families in understanding the supports and services their child requires to be successful in school.


To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form


NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.