Screen Time Effects on Child Development Interview with:

Sheri Madigan, Ph.D, R.Psych Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute University of Calgary

Dr. Madigan

Sheri Madigan, Ph.D, R.Psych
Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute
University of Calgary What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Parents are reporting that screen time is one of their major concerns, so we wanted to find out more about how large of a role screen time was playing on children’s developmental outcomes. We were especially interested in the long-term impact of screens, which is why we followed children over time, from ages 2 to 5 and repeatedly assessed both screen time use and children’s achievement of developmental milestones.

There are three main findings:

  1. Our study revealed that on average children were viewing screens for 2.4, 3.6 and 1.6 hours per day at two, three and five years of age, respectively. This means that the majority of the participants in our sample are exceeding the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guideline of no more than one-hour of high quality programming per day, for children aged 2-5 years.
  2. We found statistically significant, albeit small effects suggesting that greater amounts of screen time at two and three years predict poorer child outcomes at three and five years, respectively. Thus, screen time has a lasting influence on children’s development.
  3. The opposite pattern was not observed. That is, we did not find evidence that children showing poor performance in terms of achieving developmental milestones were more likely to be place in front of screens to help cope with their potentially challenging behaviors. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: When used in excess, screen time can have consequences for children’s development. We should think of screens like we do junk food, in small doses it’s ok, but in excess, it is problematic. But it’s never too late to make a change to the way digital technology is used in the home. Media plans can be developed as a family to manage media in the home and determine how often devices will be used, as well as when and where they will be used. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response:  In this study, we asked about total hours of screen time and, as a result, we can’t determine if context matters (i.e., screens viewed with caregivers or not), or if there are certain types of digital mediums or devices that are worse than others (e.g., interactive screens, gaming consoles, or streaming media). Thus, it will be important to decipher in future research whether co-viewing screens with a caregiver, for example, dampens associations between screen time and delays in children’s development and whether certain types of screens are more or less detrimental for children’s development.

No disclosures


Madigan S, Browne D, Racine N, Mori C, Tough S. Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test. JAMA Pediatr. Published online January 28, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056


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