Is Screen Time Bad for Babies?

If you’re a new parent, you may wonder if it’s OK for your baby to have screen time. The answer is that if you start screen time too early, it may have negative long-term effects.

In a survey of pediatric clinic patients from low-income families, 92.2% had used a mobile device by age 1. That’s according to the journal Pediatrics. The study also reported that some children begin interacting with digital media at 4 months old. Digital media exposure for children continues to climb in the U.S.

Screen time exposure can have negative effects, especially when it happens too young.

Research suggests children who have screen time as babies may experience cognitive impairments and developmental delays. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children under 18 months of age have no screen time at all.

Learn more about what’s recommended for screen time for children and the risks of starting screen time too soon.

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Screen Time Risks for Babies

Small amounts of screen time for babies may seem harmless. However, research indicates it can cause cognitive problems and developmental delays. It can affect your child’s social skills and even their sleep.

An August 2023 study published in JAMA Pediatrics analyzed how screen time use by 1-year-olds affected five areas of development:

  • Communication skills.
  • Fine motor skills.
  • Gross motor skills.
  • Personal and social skills.
  • Problem-solving.

The study reported that children who had screen time at 12 months old had developmental delays when they were 2 and 4 years old. Longer amounts of screen time had a higher negative impact on communication skills and problem-solving.

Another study, published in January 2023 in JAMA Pediatrics, also showed the negative effects of screen time on babies. The study reported children with more screen time at 12 months showed altered brain activity at 2 years old. They also showed lower attention levels and executive functioning at 9 years old.

Screen time also can affect an infant’s sleep, according to a study in Pediatrics. The study reported infants exposed to screen media at night sleep for shorter periods compared to infants with no screen exposure. Potential reasons for this include stimulating content and the effect of blue light on the body’s natural melatonin levels, the study says.

Screen Time Recommendations for Children

According to the AAP, children younger than 18 months old should have no screen time at all. The only exception is for video chatting.

If you so choose, you can introduce digital media when your child is between 18 and 24 months, the AAP says. Make sure to choose high-quality content and watch it with your child. Do not let your child watch the content alone.

You should limit screen time for children between 2 and 5 years of age to an hour of high-quality programming per day. You should also watch it with them to help them understand what they’re seeing.

Tips for Avoiding Screen Time for Babies

There are many things you can do as a parent to keep your baby away from screens. Here are a few ideas:

  • Avoid using screens as a soothing mechanism. Relying on the television to calm your child down is all too tempting. However, this can create a situation in which your child relies on media to calm them down. If you’re looking for alternatives, try playing, reading, talking, or playing music.
  • Encourage play. Play is an important component of a child’s emotional, physical, and social development. Try to encourage playtime for your baby as much as possible, whether it’s with you, a peer, or even by themselves.
  • Limit your own screen use. Kids can learn a lot from watching their parents, so setting a good example is important. If your baby is awake, try to limit your own screen use. Put your phone in your pocket or in another room. Don’t leave the television on as background noise; play music instead.
  • Read with your child. Reading can help develop your child’s language skills. It also offers social and emotional benefits. Reading to your child every day can prove an effective replacement for screens.
  • Talk to other child care providers. Avoiding screens when you’re watching your baby is one thing. But talking to babysitters, family members, day care centers, and anyone else who might care for your child is also important. Tell them why it’s important to avoid using screens when watching your child.

For further guidance about screen time and how to make sure your baby can avoid it, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Yolanda (Linda) Reid Chassiakos, MD; Jenny Radesky, MD; Dimitri Christakis, MD; et al, Pediatrics, Children and Adolescents and Digital Media. Link

David Hill, MD; Nusheen Ameenuddin, MD; Yolanda (Linda) Reid Chassiakos, MD; et al, Pediatrics, Media and Young Minds. Link

Evelyn C. Law, MD; Meredith X. Han, BSc; Zhuoyuan Lai, BSc; et al, JAMA Pediatrics, Associations Between Infant Screen Use, Electroencephalography Markers, and Cognitive Outcomes. Link

Ippei Takahashi, MMSc; Taku Obara, PhD; Mami Ishikuro, PhD; et al, JAMA Pediatrics, Screen Time at Age 1 Year and Communication and Problem-Solving Developmental Delay at 2 and 4 Years. Link

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.