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As we’ve aged, we’ve borne witness to technological advancement, but for one generation, a digital world is all that they know. The impact of screen time on adults has been studied many times. Yet, one has to wonder how screen time is affecting a vulnerable generation that does not know a life beyond gadgets.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised that children under one year of age should avoid gadgets altogether. The health body also recommends children aged two to five should have no more than an hour a day of screen time. Now, a recent Japanese study has found that 1-year-olds with excessive screen time face an increased risk for developmental delays.

Toddlers’ Screen Time Causing Developmental Delays

In a recent study, Japanese researchers analyzed the data of 7,097 children and their mothers. The data was from the Tohoku Medical Megabank Project Birth and Three-Generation Cohort Study from July 2013 through March 2017. The data featured information taken from questionnaires about development and screen time.

According to the findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics, 1-year-olds who spent more than an hour a day exposed to screen time were more likely to experience developmental delay by the time they were 2, 3, or 4 years old. These delays included communication, fine motor skills, and problem-solving skills. 

In fact, children with two hours of daily screen time were 61% more likely to have delayed development of communication skills by age 2. Then there’s the group that enjoyed four hours of daily screen time, who faced a three-fold higher risk of communication and problem-solving skill delays. 

Those with four or more hours of daily screen time, these children faced a nearly five-time increased risk of experiencing communication skill delays and twice the risk of being on personal and social milestones by age 2. Additionally, these toddlers were also 1.74 times more likely to have underdeveloped fine motor skills.

It’s important to remember that the study did not find that screen time caused developmental delays. Rather, there was an association between toddlers who were exposed to excessive screen time and delays in their development. 

What about educational screen time?

Aside from the advancement of technology, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic brought in a new wave of learning. More and more schools are incorporating the use of technology. This then translates to children spending more time working with various devices. 

In reference to the JAMA Pediatrics study, researchers revealed that their data did not differentiate between educational and recreational screen time. That said, they do suggest limiting recreational screen time, all whilst taking advantage of educational screen time. 

Quality time surpasses screen time

Despite the findings, the study did have its limitations. For one, a lot of the data was self-reported, and parents may have exaggerated their children’s developmental skills. 

Nonetheless, these findings don’t take away from the reality that one-year-olds are probably spending more time on their screens than necessary. 

“This study is not meant to shame a parent who decides to let their child spend a short while in front of the television or on a tablet while they take a moment to quickly shower or prepare a meal for the family,” said psychiatrist Dr. Zishan Khan MD, to Mindpath Health. 

That said, face-to-face interactions are critical for a child’s development, so it’s vital that they get as much as possible. 

“Parents should not fear they have ruined their baby if they have allowed them to enjoy an educational show on the TV or tablet, and they absolutely should not avoid letting distant family members interact with their child over FaceTime.

They should try their best to positively interact with their child and spend as much quality time with them as possible.” – Dr. Khan, MD

Keeping your toddlers entertained without a screen

Child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. Dr. Sogand Ghassemi, MD, recommends high-contrast toys and books for your young children. These toys and books can engage your children as well as aid visual development. Additionally, play dates, daily walks, and visiting the zoo or the park are also great ways to engage their senses and keep them entertained. 

If you want to use devices to advance your child’s development, it may be best to rely on real-life interactions, as opposed to the digital kind.

“What we’ve discovered is that little babies, under a year old, do not learn from a machine,” says Patricia Kuhl, a professor and the holder of Bezos Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning and Co-Director of the UW Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. Kuhl is also a Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“Even if you show them captivating videos, the difference in learning is extraordinary. You get genius learning from a live human being, and you get zero learning from a machine.”

Lastly, the best way children learn is by seeing. As such, parents should limit their own screen time and spend more physical time with their little ones.


Takahashi, I., Obara, T., Ishikuro, M., Murakami, K., et al. (2023). Screen Time at Age 1 Year and Communication and Problem-Solving Developmental Delay at 2 and 4 Years. JAMA pediatrics, e233057. Advance online publication.

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Harrison Haines
Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a journalist graduate and writer, specializing in health, beauty, and wellness. She also has a passion for poetry, equality, and natural hair. Identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to provide the latest information on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle and leave a more equitable society behind.


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