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Report: Pros and Cons of Screen Time For Children Under Age 3

November 3, 2014 – Georgetown University researcher Rachel Barr has teamed up with a national nonprofit to provide research-based guidelines to parents on the impact of screen use on young children.

“Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight” explores how parents can navigate the world of digital devices and what role the gadgets play in the lives of their infants and toddlers.

The research includes tips about how much screen time is appropriate, parent participation, the effects of parental screen use and more.


Barr, associate professor of psychology at Georgetown, worked with Claire Lerner of ZERO TO THREE, a national nonprofit that provides parents, professionals and policymakers with research-based information on how to nurture early development.

“Over the past decade we have learned a great deal about how young children learn from screens and how both the content and context of their screen media experiences shape that learning,” says Barr, who has investigated learning from screens during early childhood for the past decade at the Georgetown Early Learning Project. “We hope this summary of the research will be informative to parents, pediatricians and early educators who have to navigate this rapidly changing technology.”

Screen Activity

In the guidelines, the researchers encourage parents to limit background TV, choose digital content and programming carefully and remove all screens from young children’s bedrooms.

“Our take-home messages from the review of the literature for parents of young children are: participate and make screen use interactive, talk about what children are seeing, and encourage them to use their minds and bodies as they engage with the screen activity to maximize learning,” Barr explains. “We hope to help children bridge the gap between content they are exposed to on screens and real-life experiences."

Helping Parents Decide

Barr and Lerner recently participated in a virtual news briefing to discuss the research.

Barr said in the briefing that over the past 15 years, the amount of content available to young children has “exploded,” and that the research shows that “it’s not just the amount of exposure but the content of their exposure and the context of that exposure that’s crucial for learning.”

She stressed the importance of parents staying involved in their young children’s learning, noting that parents only talk with their toddlers 50 percent of the time while watching television and only 25 percent of the time while using mobile devices.

“The bottom line in terms of screens is we know from research that real 3-D experiences in the real world allow for richer social and physical exploration than screen experiences,” Lerner said. “I think that really the take-home message from this report … is to be mindful. That we’re not in the business of telling parents what to do, we’re really in the business of helping parents make informed decisions.”