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Navigating Early-Years Screen Time

Navigating Early Years Screen Time Negative Impact Toddler watching TV 6-4

Balancing Act: Navigating The Effects of Screen Time on Children during Early-Years | Scientific studies shed light on prioritizing human interaction over screens.

In the age of technology, screens have become an integral part of our daily lives. From smartphones to tablets, televisions to computers, screens are everywhere. However, for parents, especially those following the Montessori method of education, which strongly emphasizes human interaction and hands-on learning, a question arises: How does screen time affect young children aged one to six, and why should we be navigating it during the early-years?

Navigating Early-Years Screen Time | The Impact of Screens on Young Children

In this blog post, we explore scientific studies and research findings to shed light on the importance of prioritizing human interaction over screen time during these crucial early years. Whether you’re a homeschooling mom, a working mom, or a parent of young children, this information is relevant and valuable for nurturing your child’s development.

Unraveling Screen Time’s Toll

Language Development | The Power of Human Interaction

One of the first things parents often notice when their children start interacting with screens is decreased verbal communication. According to a study published in Pediatrics, excessive screen time can hinder language development in young children. During these early years, children are rapidly expanding their vocabulary and learning to communicate effectively. Human interaction, including conversations with parents and caregivers, is vital in this process. Screens, if not used judiciously, can displace these essential interactions.

Negative Impact on Cognitive Development

Study: Zimmerman, F. J., Christakis, D. A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2007). “Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years.” The Journal of Pediatrics, 151(4), 364-368.

Finding: This study suggested that excessive TV exposure in children under 2 years of age is associated with language delays and can hinder cognitive development.

Cognitive Development

Research conducted by Barr et al. and published in the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly revealed that the type of content children are exposed to on-screen matters. Educational programming can be beneficial, but exposure to adult-directed content may negatively affect cognitive development. The key takeaway is that not all screen time is created equal, and moderation and content selection are crucial.

Television Viewing and Cognitive Outcomes in Early Childhood:

Study: Barr, R., Lauricella, A. R., Zack, E., & Calvert, S. L. (2010). “Infant and early childhood exposure to adult-directed and child-directed television programming: Relations with cognitive skills at age four.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (Wayne State University. Press), 56(1), 21-48.

Finding: This study examined the type of television content children are exposed to and its impact on cognitive development. It found that exposure to educational programming was associated with higher cognitive skills at age four, while exposure to adult-directed programming had negative associations.

Emotional Regulation

A study in Child Development suggests that screen time can interfere with emotional regulation in young children. Parental distraction by screens, often referred to as “technoference,” can lead to behavior problems in children. This study highlights the importance of parental presence and engagement during critical moments in a child’s emotional development.

Screen Use and Emotional Regulation:

Study: McDaniel, B. T., & Radesky, J. S. (2018). “Technoference: Parent distraction with technology and associations with child behavior problems.” Child Development, 89(1), 100-109.

Finding: This study explores the concept of “technoference,” where parent distraction by screens can lead to behavior problems in children. It underscores the importance of parent-child interaction for emotional regulation.

Social Skills

When children spend too much time in front of screens, their social skills may suffer. A study in found that excessive screen exposure in childcare settings can reduce social interactions and hinder the development of crucial social skills. Human interaction is essential for learning empathy, cooperation, and effective communication.

Negative Impact on Social Skills:

Study: Lillard, A. S., & Peterson, J. (2011). “The immediate impact of different types of television on young children’s executive function.” Developmental Psychology, 48(2), 559-562.

Finding: This study suggests that when children watch fast-paced, action-packed television shows, their executive function skills, which include self-control and the ability to pay attention, are negatively affected. These skills are closely tied to social interactions and behavior regulation, emphasizing the importance of limiting exposure to such content in early childhood to promote healthy social development.

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Screen Time Struggles | Montessori Method and Human Interaction

The Montessori method of education places a strong emphasis on hands-on learning and human interaction. Dr. Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori approach, believed that children learn best through active engagement with their environment and through interactions with caregivers and peers. Here are a few Montessori-inspired tips for promoting human interaction over screen time:

Create a Prepared Environment: Create a home environment that encourages exploration and hands-on learning. Provide age-appropriate toys, books, and materials that engage children’s senses and foster curiosity.

Engage in Activities Together: Spend quality time with your child engaging in activities that promote learning and bonding. Reading books, cooking, gardening, and playing games are all excellent opportunities for interaction.

Limit Screen Time: While screens can be educational tools, setting clear limits on screen time is essential. Use screens intentionally for educational purposes and prioritize other activities.

Encourage Independence: Montessori education also emphasizes fostering independence in children. Encourage your child to take on age-appropriate responsibilities and tasks, promoting self-sufficiency and self-confidence.

Navigating Early Years Screen Time Negative Impact Toddler watching TV 6-4
Navigating Early Years Screen Time Negative Impact Toddler watching TV 6-4

Navigating Early-Years Screen Time | Why It Matters

In a world filled with screens and technology, it’s crucial for parents, especially those following the Montessori method, to prioritize human interaction during the early years of a child’s life. While interactive educational Apps might have a positive effect on children’s cognitive skills, an overwhelming body of scientific studies consistently shows that excessive screen time can have negative effects on language development, cognitive skills, emotional regulation, and social development in young children. 

By creating an environment rich in hands-on learning experiences and meaningful interactions, parents can lay a strong foundation for their child’s growth and development. Whether you’re a homeschooling mom, a working mom, or a parent of young children, remember that the power of human interaction cannot be overstated in your child’s journey of learning and development.

The Dangers of Background TV During Feeding

In addition to active screen time, parents and caregivers should also be aware of the potential dangers associated with background TV, especially during mealtime. Research has shown that even when the TV is on in the background, and young children are not actively watching it, it can still adversely affect their development and well-being.

Navigating Early-Years Screen Time Baby Watching TV Feeding
Navigating Early-Years Screen Time Baby Watching TV Feeding

Reduced Focus on Eating:

A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that background TV can distract children during mealtime, causing them to eat less and potentially leading to poor nutrition. When the TV is on, children may be less engaged with their food and more focused on the screen, which can disrupt healthy eating habits.

Language Development Impairment:

Background TV can also hinder language development in young children. The same study in Pediatrics noted that children exposed to background TV during meals may have decreased opportunities for meaningful conversations with caregivers. This can lead to language delays and hinder cognitive development.

Missed Social Interaction:

Feeding time is an excellent opportunity for social interaction between parents or caregivers and young children. Background TV can detract from this valuable bonding time. Instead of engaging in conversation or practicing self-feeding skills, children may become absorbed in the screen, missing out on crucial social interactions.

Disrupted Routine:

Consistency and routine are essential for young children’s well-being. Background TV during mealtime can disrupt established routines and make it challenging to establish healthy eating habits. It can also lead to irregular eating patterns, which may have long-term consequences.

Sleep Disturbances:

Feeding time for young children often occurs close to bedtime. Exposure to background TV during this time can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to sleep disturbances. This can have a cascading effect on a child’s overall health and well-being.

Creating a Screen-Free Mealtime Environment

To mitigate the dangers of background TV during feeding, consider adopting the following practices:

Designate Mealtime as Screen-Free: Make it a rule to turn off the TV during mealtime. Create a screen-free environment that encourages focus on food, family, and conversation.

Engage in Conversation: Use mealtime as an opportunity for meaningful conversation. Talk to your child about their day, share stories, and encourage them to express themselves.

Model Healthy Habits: Be a positive role model by demonstrating healthy eating habits. Children are more likely to follow suit when they see their parents or caregivers making nutritious food choices.

Establish a Routine: Stick to a regular mealtime routine that includes set times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This helps children understand and anticipate mealtime, reducing the need for distractions.

By prioritizing a screen-free mealtime environment, you can create a space where children can focus on eating, develop healthy eating habits, and engage in valuable social interactions with their caregivers.


In today’s discussion, we delved into the significant impact of screen time on young children, emphasizing the importance of human interaction during their formative years. We explored compelling findings from scientific studies that underscore the potential risks associated with excessive screen time, from hindering language and cognitive development to disrupting emotional regulation and social skills. Whether you’re a homeschooling mom, a working parent, or anyone with young children, these insights are a vital reminder of the value of meaningful engagement with your child, nurturing their holistic growth, overall well-being, and development during the critical early years.


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