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November 2020


What research has been conducted on appropriate screen time for young children?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on appropriate screen time for young children. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed appropriate screen time for young children. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Cadoret, G., Bigras, N., Lemay, L., Lehrer, J., & Lemire, J. (2018). Relationship between screentime and motor proficiency in children: A longitudinal study. Early Child Development and Care, 188(2), 231-239.
    From the abstract: "The objective of this longitudinal study was to examine the relationship between screen time (ST) and children's motor proficiency. The amount of time 113 children spent watching television, using a computer, and playing video games as reported by parents at ages 4, 5, and 7 was measured and children's motor skills were evaluated at age 7 with the short version of the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency Second Edition. The results revealed that children who spent more time in front of a screen at age 4 also do so at ages 5 and 7. A negative relationship was observed between ST at ages 4, 5, and 7 and motor proficiency at age 7. Mediation analysis suggested that the negative effect of ST at age 4 on motor competence was mediated by ST at age 7. This result emphasizes the adverse influence of ST stability on motor proficiency."
  2. Ernest, J. M., Causey, C., Newton, A. B., Sharkins, K., Summerlin, J., & Albaiz, N. (2014). Extending the global dialogue about media, technology, screen time, and young children. Childhood Education, 90(3), 182-191.
    From the abstract: "Questions about the potential benefits and dangers of media and technology use abound, with competing theories regarding its effects among young children. This article explores global perspectives on children's exposure to media, technology, and screen time (MeTS) in the schools, homes, and communities of an increasingly technology-driven world. The authors take a critically reflective approach by presenting competing narratives about the relationship of MeTS to the teaching, learning, and development of young children from around the world. The objective is to stimulate dialogue and create awareness about this issue in order to mobilize local decisions about MeTS. Given the undeniable exposure of young children to media and technology in their daily lives, this article recommends careful consideration and understanding of the potential benefits and concerns related to MeTS as educators guide children toward the positive aspects of technology and media use."
  3. Hofferth, S. L. (2010). Home media and children's achievement and behavior. Child Development, 81(5), 1598-1619.
    From the abstract: "This study provides a national picture of the time American 6- to 12- year-olds spent playing video games, using the computer, and watching TV at home in 1997 and 2003, and the association of early use with their achievement and behavior as adolescents. Girls benefited from computer use more than boys, and Black children benefited more than White children. Greater computer use in middle childhood was associated with increased achievement for White and Black girls, and for Black but not White boys. Increased video game play was associated with an improved ability to solve applied problems for Black girls but lower verbal achievement for all girls. For boys, increased video game play was linked to increased aggressive behavior problems."
  4. Hu, B. Y., Johnson, G. K., Teo, T., & Wu, Z. (2020). Relationship between screen time and Chinese children's cognitive and social development. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 34(2), 183-207.
    From the abstract: "Research on the screen time of young children and its relationship to their cognitive and social development is controversial. Based on a stratified, random sample of 579 five-year-old children in Guangdong, China, this study explores the relationship between the screen time of Chinese children and their cognitive and social development. Specifically, we assessed children's receptive vocabulary, math skills, executive functioning, science knowledge, and social skills in relationship to their active and passive screen times. Results indicate that the passive screen time of Chinese preschool children was negatively associated with their mathematics achievement, science performance, executive functioning, and social skills. Active screen time was positively associated with their receptive language skills and science knowledge. Additionally, the screen time of Chinese children in this study exceeded American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, and boys, children in rural communities, and children in single-child households were especially vulnerable to the negative associations of screen time. Discussions of the findings and recommendations for policies and practice are included."
  5. Jusiene, R., Rakickiene, L., Breidokiene, R., & Laurinaityte, I. (2020). Executive function and screen-based media use in preschool children. Infant and Child Development, 29(1), e2173.
    From the abstract: "The aim of this study was to explore associations between time spent using various media devices and executive abilities in preschoolers. Participants were 190 children (44.2% female; mean age 58.75 months, SD = 7.27). The Shape School, the Missing Scan and the Head and Feet tasks were administered to children to assess three core executive functions (mental set shifting, working memory, and inhibitory control). Parents provided information on the daily time children spent watching television and using smartphones, tablets, and computers. Parental education was also taken into consideration. Results of multiple linear regression analysis revealed that separate executive abilities were not predicted by use of any type of screen. To conclude, our findings suggest that screen time is not related to executive functions in typically developing low social risk preschoolers who are not overusing screens."
  6. Kara, H. G. E. (2018). A case study on reducing children's screen time: The project of screen free week. World Journal of Education, 8(1), 110-110.
    From the abstract: "The current study aims to direct children to alternative activities within a week period by applying the project of screen free week to voluntary families. The ultimate aim of the study is to reduce children's screen time. The instrumental case study method; one of the qualitative research methods, was employed. Five children attending the preschool class of an elementary school in the Kartal district of Istanbul and their families voluntarily participating in the project of screen free week constituted the study group in the current research. Documents and structured interview form were used to collect data. The document used to collect data is the weekly chart in which the families noted the activities they performed during the week spent without screen. The structured interview form was developed by the researcher by reviewing the related literature. Content analysis was conducted on the data collected in the current research. As a result of the families' participation in the project of screen free week, they recognized the importance of family-child interaction, that their children are happier when they spend time with them, that they can decide on programs to be watched and games to be played together with their children and that this decision should not be taken as a rule rather as a routine of the family. At the end of the project of screen free week, it was seen that a great majority of the families set a limit to the time spent in front of the screen suitable for the age and developmental level of their children. In light of the findings of the current study, it can be suggested that the project of screen free week should be made more widespread and more families and children should be reached. In addition to this, training programs can be organized for families to learn how to select quality programs/applications."
  7. Neumann, M. M. (2015). Young children and screen time: Creating a mindful approach to digital technology. Australian Educational Computing, 30(2).
    From the abstract: "To effectively address early childhood screen time concerns raised by parents and policy makers it is important to examine the current home digital environments of young children. The present study draws upon research that examined the home digital environment of Australian parents and their children (aged 2 to 4; N = 69). Parents completed a questionnaire that asked how many digital devices families had at home, how much time children spend on them, and how easily children could operate them. The extent of parental engagement in digital activities and parent views on touch screen tablets were also measured. TVs and touch screen tablets were the most popular digital device among pre-schoolers being used on average for 80 mins and 20 mins per day respectively. Parents rated touch screen tablets as the easiest device for young children to operate. It is suggested that a differentiated screen time policy approach for TVs and tablets is needed to better address screen time concerns. Practical ways to help parents create a mindful approach to digital technology to foster positive screen time interactions is also discussed."
  8. Wethington, H., Pan, L., & Sherry, B. (2013). The association of screen time, television in the bedroom, and obesity among school-aged youth: 2007 National survey of children's health. Journal of School Health, 83(8), 573-581.
    From the abstract: "Background: Among school-aged youth, we sought to identify characteristics associated with (1) exceeding screen time recommendations (ie, television/videos/video games more than 2 hours/weekday), and (2) exceeding screen time recommendations, the presence of a television in the bedroom, and obesity. Methods: Using 2007 National Survey of Children's Health data, we used multivariable logistic regression to identify sociodemographic and behavioral characteristics associated with excessive screen time among 6 to 11- and 12 to 17-year-olds on a typical weekday. For 12 to 17-year-olds only, we used logistic regression to examine the odds of obesity using the same variables as above, with the addition of screen time. Results: Overall, 20.8% of 6 to 11-year-olds and 26.1% of 12 to 17-year-olds had excessive screen time. For both age groups, having a bedroom TV was significantly associated with excessive screen time. For the older age group, the dual scenario of excessive screen time with a bedroom TV had the strongest association with obesity (OR = 2.5, 95% CI 1.9, 3.2). Conclusions: Given the similar risk factors for excess screen time and having a TV in the bedroom, a public health challenge exists to design interventions to reduce screen time among school-aged youth. (Contains 3 tables.)"


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Appropriate screen time for young children
  • Screen time effects on young children
  • Academic achievement, amount of screen time

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.