Screen-Time: From How Much to How


Image from by MIKI Yoshihito

Instead of focusing our attention on how much screen time to allow, it would be productive to shift the discussion to how technology is used, that is the nature and age-appropriateness of the content on screen.

While adhering to the principle of moderation in all things, the focus will then be on providing guidelines and examples for positive use rather than policing and regulating screen-time.


“Conversations about what constitutes “developmentally appropriate” use of technology in early childhood education have, to date, focused largely on a single, blunt measure — screen time — that fails to capture important nuances, such as what type of media a child is accessing and whether technology use is taking place solo or with peers. Using screen time as the primary measure of developmentally appropriate use has become increasingly inappropriate as new technologies are ever more rapidly introduced and integrated into all aspects of life, and as we learn more about the potential benefits of technology. The authors challenge the traditional emphasis on screen time and discuss how to move toward a more comprehensive definition of developmentally appropriate technology use for young children.”

Key Findings

Screen Time May No Longer Be an Appropriate Measure for Technology Use

  • For many years, “appropriate” technology use by young children has been defined largely by the amount of time a child spends using technology.
  • In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that screen time be limited to two hours a day for children over age two, and that no screen time be allowed for children younger than that.
  • However, these guidelines were established when television was the primary form of technology that most young children consumed, and the guidelines were intended to limit the passive, sedentary patterns of use that typically accompany television viewing.

Technology and Use Patterns Have Changed

  • A more comprehensive definition of developmentally appropriate technology use by young children would be useful. This definition should consider whattechnology and content are used, how they are used, and why they are used — all in addition to how often they are used.

Six Considerations in Redefining Technology Use

  • Is it purposefully integrated to support learning?
  • Is the use solitary or taking place with others?
  • Is the activity sedentary or mobile?
  • What are the content and features of the media?
  • Are the device’s features age-appropriate?
  • What is the total screen time involved?


  • Changing policy mandates and funding at the local, state, and national levels, though typically a slow process, will be critical to redefining developmentally appropriate technology use in classrooms.
  • Simple, clear guidance (e.g., a short fact sheet that defines developmentally appropriate use, public awareness campaigns) could immediately begin to influence ECE providers’ and families’ understanding of appropriate technology use.
  • To address concerns among early childhood educators about the lack of models or exemplars of effective, appropriate integration of technology into ECE, demonstrations of appropriate use should be developed and distributed to provide support to these educators.
  • Existing software and application rating systems are useful in providing simple, accessible assessments of media content can help busy or uncertain providers and families, and these types of systems should continue to be supported and updated to provide support.”

Source: Daugherty, L., Dossani, R., Johnson, E-E., & Wright, C. (2014). Moving Beyond Screen Time: Redefining Developmentally Appropriate Technology Use in Early Childhood Education. Policy Brief. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation



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