Screens and Children Under Three

Some interesting research was recently summarized by The Guardian. Well, actually, it was a summary of a summary of some research. I guess that makes this a summary of a summary of a summary of some research, so take it with a grain of salt.

Long story short: screen time for children under two can undermine brain development and overall health.

So should we immediately stop showing our children TV’s, video games, computers, and smartphones? More power to you if you have that kind of willpower. If you occasionally see the benefit of a short distraction, however, let’s look more deeply at the research findings. Details matter, as I like to say.

Physical Effects

Will fifteen minutes of watching a screen negatively affect your child’s health? It doesn’t appear so. The article says:

negative effects on health kick in after about two hours of sitting still, with increased long-term risks of obesity and heart problems

So to avoid negative health effects, keep the continuous (in one sitting) screen time as short as possible. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends keeping screen time to essentially zero until two, then gradually increasing to no more than two hours of screen time per day for an 18-year-old. This discipline will help prevent the onset of a sedentary lifestyle.

Developmental Effects

This one is even more interesting. Basically, the brain behaves differently when it’s passively watching a screen. The most informative line of the article comes from Professor Lynne Murray:

there is “a well-established literature showing the adverse effects of screen experience on the cognitive development of children under three”, but the adverse effects could be mitigated if the child was watching and interacting with “a supportive partner – usually adult”

In other words, if you are using the screen to promote eye-to-eye positive conversation and interaction with your child, it’s unlikely to negatively affect your child’s development.

What Does the Bible Say?

Deuteronomy 4:9 (NLT) – 9“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.

God instructs parents to instruct their children, and baby learns what baby sees. The most important thing to pass on to your child is your heart for God (your soul), and the eyes are the window to the soul.


Maximize eye-to-eye time with your child. Minimize screen time. If you need some screen assistance, use the screen to keep interacting with your child.

But if your sanity needs a fifteen minute, screen-induced break, other research states that sane parents do parent better! Speaking of which, I’m off to watch my Longhorns on TV with my son 🙂