Blogger Early & Family Literacy committee

Screen time and Preschool Age Children

The effects of screen time on children’s development hit the news once again in November 2019, when the results of a Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) study were published in JAMA Pediatrics and covered in the media.

After examining MRIs of the brains of 47 preschoolers, measuring their screen-based media use, and assessing their language and emergent literacy abilities, CCHMC researchers found “an association between increased screen-based media use, compared with the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines, and lower microstructural integrity of brain white matter tracts supporting language and emergent literacy skills in prekindergarten children.” The study showed that children with higher screen-based media use scored lower on cognitive tests measuring important early literacy skills. Declaring that causation is beyond the scope of their study, the researchers recommended further research and raised important questions—Are the troubling neurological differences found in children who had screen-based media use above the AAP’s guidelines a direct result of the children’s screen-based media use? Or are the differences an indirect result of the decline in human interaction the children had because of the greater amount of time they spent using screen-based media?

One question this raises for librarians is: What’s the best way for librarians to share this research information and the concerns it raises with parents? Perri Klass M.D., National Medical Director of Reach out and Read, writing for the New Times Well Family Newsletter provides us with sound advice, calling the study “a cautionary tale about the ways that the developing brain is shaped by experiences, and about what kinds of experiences may be most helpful and constructive — and how parents hold the keys to those experiences.” Klass advises “the message to parents, over and over and over, should not be either screens-are-bad, or you’re-a-bad-parent. The message should be: In the early years, you are so important, and good parenting involves being there, interacting, talking, playing, singing, asking and answering questions, and of course, reading.” And fortunately for us, children’s librarians are in a perfect position to help parents do just that.

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Today’s blog post was written by Joanna Ward, Children’s Services Librarian, LA County Library, on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee. She can be reached at

This post addresses ALSC Core Competency “Understands theories of infant, child, and adolescent learning, literacy development and brain development, and their implications for library service.”

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