How Much Screen Time is Too Much? Is your iDevice use Developmentally Appropriate?

One of my early childhood colleagues shared with me the National Association for Educating Young Children position statement entitled,  “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8“. The  statement is intended primarily to provide guidelines for the use of techology and media to those working in early childhood education and primary aged children from birth through age 8.

As an OT, and thinking of the frenzy with the use of electronic devices, whether iDevices, Droids or other electronic devices, how much time spent with screen time is too much? What are national organization guidelines on the use an implementation of electronic devices and media for children aged from birth to age eight?

It was interesting to read the position paper from the National Association for Educating Young Children (NAEYC) and also review the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations on Healthy Promotions, as they focus on concerns of obesity,  engagement in sedentary activities and recommend developmentally appropriate practice for children birth to eight.  How does this affect best practices for OT pediatric practice and the use of electronic mobile devices with children?

Just to clarify, the NAEYC defines technology and media tools as  “computers, tablets, multitouch screens, interactive whiteboards, mobile devices, cameras, DVD and music players, audio recorders, electronic toys, games, e-book readers, and older analog devices still being used such as tape recorders, VCRs, VHS tapes, record and cassette players, light tables, projectors, and microscopes. “¹ Its description includes not only electronic mobile devices but many more electronic media formats such as TV, movies and electronic games.

There is much more in the full position paper, however here are a few of the key messages I took from the position paper and recommendations that I thought were important to reflect on when using electronic devices considering best practices in therapy within OT practice:

When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development. The fundamental premise of the position statement is that technology and interactive media are tools for teachers and administrator to use in early childhood programs. The effectiveness of technology and interactive media, as with other tools, dependes on their being used in the right ways, under the right circumstances, by those skilled in their use. Within the framework of develpmentally apprpriate practice, this means rcognizing children as unique individuals, being attunded to their age and developmental level, and being responsive to the social and cultural contexts in which they live.

Effective uses of technology and media are active, hands-on, engaging and empowering; give the child control; provide adaptive scaffolds to help children progress in skills development at thei individual rates; and are used as one of many options to support children’s learning. Technolgoy and interactive media should expand childrens access to new content and new skills. When truly integrated, uses of technology and media become routine and trasnparent – the child or the educator is focused on the activity or exploration itself and not on the technology.”¹

“Limitations on the use of technology and media are important. Screen time recommendations from public health organization for children birth to age 5 for limits on screen time should include time spend in front of a screen at early childhood programs, home and elsewhere. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations are children under age 2 not watch TV and children age 2 and older watch no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming³” .

Sited in the position statement, “when screen time is used appropriately and recommendations kept in mind, technology and interactive media have the potential to enhance, without replacing, creative play, exploration , physical activity, outdoor experiences, conversation and social interactions.”²

“Special considerations must be given to the use of technology with infants and toddlers. Recommendations of the position paper further “prohibits the passive use of television, videos, DVD’s and other non-interactive technologies and media in early childhood programs for children younger than 2 years of age and discourages passive and non-interactive uses with children ages 2 through 5. Any uses of technology and interactive media in programs for chldren younger than 2 years of age should be limited to those that appropriately support repsonsive interactions between caregivers and children and strengthen adult-child relationships.”²

“Attention to digital citizenship and equitable access is essential.”¹ Teachers and administrators have a responsibility to protect and empower children to think about appropriate use of technology and media they use and view. Digital tools should be used by adults with good citizenship, developmentally appropriate uses for communication, learning in healthy, positive and safe manners. Equitable access to technology and interactive media is also necessary as a model of digital citizenship.

 What might this mean for OT practice with early childhood interventions through age 8? Limit screen time, encourage developmentally appropriate activities including physical interaction in gross and fine motor activities allowing children the opportunity to gain hands on experience and development with real items that provide all the sensory and haptic experiences they need to perceptually/cognitively learn about the environment and things in the environment. Utilize electronic devices as another tools for learning, motivation/behavior management within a balance of activities in the classroom. As with all other tools, it is just a tool to be used seamlessly for learning. Consider how much other face time is occuring in the students programming or at home. Discuss this with other care providers and or parents.

Are there exceptions? Consider children with physical, cognitive, communicative or sensory challenges limit their interaction with the environment and between others. Electronic devices may be one of the only method they might be able to independently interact with others or engage in learning.

As with all things, creating balance and considering developmentally appropriate activities for individual student needs must be considered. As we explore exciting, engaging, new tools for the students we work with, it is important to keep in mind that balance with the tools and activities we use. The position paper from NAEYC and AAP recommendations helps us reflect on our developmental and occupational framework  as we integrate new tools into our treatment sessions.

I encourage you to read the entire position paper,  “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8” especially if you work with early intervention through 8 year old children to review the NAEYC recommendations for yourself.

Just food for thought when considering how you use your OT iTool Kit!

Thanks to Nancy Pfankuch, Early Childhood Teacher and colleague at Sheboygan Falls School District for sharing the initial position paper with me!! She truly has a handle on the balance of technology and instructional tools for her students. Thank you Nancy for sharing – this was a great read.



¹a Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth to Age 8, retrieved on March 24, 2012 from:

¹Key Messages of the NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center Position Statement on Technology and Interactive Media in Early Childhood Programs, retrieved on March 24, 2012 from

²Promoting Physical Activity, retrieved on March 24, 2012 from

³ Healthy Promotion Information Sheet , retrieved on March 24, 2012 from

About Carol Leynse Harpold, MS, OTR/L, SCLV, ATP, CATIS

OTR/L with more than 35 years experience in pediatrics, school based therapy and adult rehabilitation. Masters of Science in Adaptive Education/Assistive Technology with 20 years experience in AT in education of elementary, middle school, secondary, post secondary students and work environments for adult clients. A RESNA Assistive Technology Practitioner with ACVREP CATIS credentials, AOTA Specialty Certification in Low Vision, USC Davis Executive Certificate in Home Modifications, servicing adults and students with disabilities in employment, education, and home environments. A 2020 graduate of the University of Alabama Birmingham Low Vision Certification Program.
This entry was posted in Appropriate use of Technology and Media with Early Childhood, Early Childhood, iPad Management, Occupational Therapy, Special education and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How Much Screen Time is Too Much? Is your iDevice use Developmentally Appropriate?

  1. I am a big supporter of cutting back on screen time. In our house, we try to follow the guidelines and a little less if possible of tv time. I am a little less lenient when it comes to computer time or iPad time. Most of our computer time is spent on creating fun graphics or works of digital art. Don’t get me wrong my children absolutely play games on the idevices and computer but it is certainly limited.

    I do allow our 18 month old to use the iPad under supervision but she is not allowed to watch television. She is speech delayed and benefits from the simple apps with animal sounds and music. I have to admit I found it VERY interesting that when she picked up a photograph in a picture frame recently she tried to touch it and move it to the next picture. Obviously she was unsuccessful and after several tries gave up but was not frustrated. She did continue to carry the picture frame around after that and still enjoyed it for what it was. She LOVES music so using the iPod to access songs she likes to listen to is wonderful. I really need to video her using it – amazing to me that after about 15 minutes of using the iPad she understood the home button, how to change screens and choose apps (to me that signifies amazing cognitive skills, visual perceptual skills and finger isolation)!

    In our house, the 18 month old uses the iPad with me for about 30 minutes a day (two 15 minute increments) and our older children (ages 6-12 years old) average about one hour per day when calculated over an entire week.

    Again, I think it comes down to moderation and supervision which can be held true for many things. Great post!

    • Sorry just realized I had a typo – meant to write more lenient or more flexible instead of less lenient in first paragraph. Should have proof read before I hit the comment button. Whoops!

    • Thanks for comment as alway. I have to admit I accidentally posted it before doing some editing, so the post might be different when you return to it- oops!

      It is interesting to see the recommendations and to understand the wonderful functions of mobile devices and how we are all connected to them. Although not always the case with individuals my genre (I am seasoned!!), I understand how hooked millenials are to their devices!

      We use them for so much and offer so much – included are their use with the under 2 year olds. It is a balance however and hats off to you for taking a conscious stand on limits to screen time. I suspect most people don’t think that way! Yes moderation is key!

      It was good to reflect on therapy practice and use of screen time and mobile devices in a school setting and might be a discussion with parents of children serviced (under 8 year olds) that they do spend time (limited, however time) on a device at school if their adhere to the recommendation, depending on how it is being used (one of our EC teacher uses a visual timer on the Ipad for timing and transitions – really not a screen time situation.

      Thanks you again for your comment – I always look forward to your comments!

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