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How Infant Screen Time Could Have Lasting Effects on Development

Photo from Jalleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

How Infant Screen Time Could Have Lasting Effects on Development

By Movieguide® Contributor

A recent study recommends no screen time for babies under 18 months as digital media significantly alters a child’s brain activity and development. 

The study published in Jama Pediatrics found that children with greater digital media exposure showed lower alertness at 18 months compared to children with less or no screen time. 

Additionally, to study the long-term effects of infant screen time, the kids participated in cognitive ability tests after they turned 9. 

“These tests measured things like attention span, working memory, and follow-through. Every hour increase in infant screen time was associated with a statistically significant decrease in their cognitive test scores,” World reports. 

Movieguide® frequently reports on screen time can impact children. 

While TV, smartphones, and tablets are prevalent in nearly every household, Dr. Jenny Radesky said that more screen time could mean a bigger meltdown.

“Even slightly increasing a child’s emotional reactivity, that just means it’s more likely when one of those daily frustrations comes up, you’re more likely to get a bigger reaction,” Radesky, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, said.

Movieguide® continues: 

The study then looked at the children’s behavior over a six month period. The study found that more use of screens to distract children during tantrums leads to increased emotional dysregulation.

“When you see your 3- to 5-year-old having a tough emotional moment, meaning they are screaming and crying about something, they’re getting frustrated, they might be hitting or kicking or lying on the floor. … If your go-to strategy is to distract them or get them to be quiet by using media, then this study suggests that is not helping them in the long term,” Radesky said.

In addition to distracting kids, screens “disengage” children from reality, causing them to be “unaware of their surroundings,” according to Dr. Rosemary Stein.

Children miss out on “everyday learning opportunities. A child looking at his mom’s smartphone while she shops won’t notice what his mom is buying, and misses social cues like which fellow shoppers are friendly.” 

Because of the prevalence of screens, parents should model how children should interact with digital media. 

“There is no substitute for adult interaction, modeling and teaching,” Movieguide® previously reported. 

Movieguide® founder Dr. Ted Baehr frequently discusses how children learn from modeling what they see in real life and in entertainment:

One is the principle of modeling. Research shows that children imitate, even from the moment of birth. Children follow the examples that are set for them, not only in real life, but also in literature. Parables are examples of teaching tales people have used to help children learn how to live. Research shows that the entertainment media provide “scripts” for a child’s future behavior.

Studies have looked at the real-life behavior of children and have counted their episodes of imitation of the violent or non-violent behavior.

In general, these laboratory studies demonstrate that when you present to children a filmed model of someone doing something, children are more likely to do that something after having seen the film. Experiments have shown that withdrawn children can even learn to socialize better if they are shown a video of a child gradually starting to make friends.

A second basic principle of learning is that the more one practices a behavior, the more ingrained it becomes. Even practice in imagination, or fantasy rehearsal, is an effective way of ingraining a pattern. For young children, dramatic play is the prototypical fantasy rehearsal method.

The third is the principle of reinforcement which holds that behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated. Vicarious reinforcement also works. Characters in action and adventure movies are rewarded for their proficiency in violence. Often the reward for a male is the admiration of a beautiful woman.

The power of modeling, practice and reinforcement in human learning predict that media violence increases the likelihood of real-life violence.[iv]

The California Medical Association study found that 22% of all crime committed by juveniles is directly copied after what is seen in television programs right down to the minute gory details.[v] A study published in the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION shows one-third of the young male prisoners convicted of violent crimes say they were consciously imitating techniques they learned from television.[vi]

Now more than ever we’re bombarded by darkness in media, movies, and TV. Movieguide® has fought back for almost 40 years, working within Hollywood to propel uplifting and positive content. We’re proud to say we’ve collaborated with some of the top industry players to influence and redeem entertainment for Jesus. Still, the most influential person in Hollywood is you. The viewer.

What you listen to, watch, and read has power. Movieguide® wants to give you the resources to empower the good and the beautiful. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support.

You can make a difference with as little as $7. It takes only a moment. If you can, consider supporting our ministry with a monthly gift. Thank you.

Movieguide® is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductible.


Now more than ever we’re bombarded by darkness in media, movies, and TV. Movieguide® has fought back for almost 40 years, working within Hollywood to propel uplifting and positive content. We’re proud to say we’ve collaborated with some of the top industry players to influence and redeem entertainment for Jesus. Still, the most influential person in Hollywood is you. The viewer.

What you listen to, watch, and read has power. Movieguide® wants to give you the resources to empower the good and the beautiful. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support.

You can make a difference with as little as $7. It takes only a moment. If you can, consider supporting our ministry with a monthly gift. Thank you.

Movieguide® is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductible.


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