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The Effects of Screen Time on Young Children

This past year, amid the events of the pandemic, schools across America had no choice but to pivot their model to full-time remote learning. Students as young as pre-K suddenly found themselves having to log on every morning and interact with their teachers and lessons via the screen of a laptop or tablet. 

Additionally, the number of toddlers and preschoolers using electronic devices with screens to play games, watch children’s TV shows, and engage in educational activities skyrocketed in 2020 due to their inability to socialize in person with other children, attend child care, or participate in any other enrichment activities that once required in-person attendance. 

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, health officials were concerned by the surging number of children exposed to potentially harmful amounts of screen time. Here are some of the lasting effects too much screen time could have on the youngest members of our population.

Lack of Focus and Concentration

According to Dr. Ameera Nauman, a pediatrician with OSF Healthcare, any amount of screen time at all can have a detrimental effect on children under the age of two. Because the brain’s neural networks are developing most rapidly during the first several years of life, exposing them to TV screens, tablets, or mobile devices may interfere with their ability to develop language skills, play, and interact. However, Dr. Nauman agrees with the CDC’s recommendations for no more than one hour of screen time per day for children ages 3-5, as certain interactive educational apps and TV programming can prove to be beneficial to their ability to learn and make connections.

Eye Health

While pediatricians may be more concerned by the developmental effects of screen time on young children, an optometrist or LASIK surgeon can tell you that too much screen time can also harm your young child’s vision.

Too much screen time can result in digital eye strain which can cause symptoms like blurry vision, itchy eyes, headaches, and fatigue. This is due to the high-energy, short-wavelength blue and violet light that TVs and mobile devices with screens give off. This harmful light has been shown to cause premature aging of the eyes and can result in the deterioration of your child’s vision.

However, all is not lost- Minnesota optometrist Dr. Tina McCarty says that the effects of screen time on young eyes are reversible, if healthier habits are formed. “The short-term effect of digital eyestrain is not cumulative,” she told Healthline. “The eyes will get better when you give them a break and/or wear the proper eyewear in the form of lenses and coatings based on the patient’s specific needs to minimize eyestrain.”

While interacting with mobile apps and educational TV programs can be a great way for preschoolers to make discoveries and practice what they’ve learned, limiting screen time is vital to ensuring that they are able to hit key developmental milestones and remain healthy and curious about the world around them.


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