Screens or Hugs? The Impact of Screen Time on Babies’ Brains

In recent years, the surge in screen time, courtesy of digital devices, has raised concerns among parents and healthcare professionals alike regarding its impact on infants’ brain development. 

While digital technology introduces an array of learning opportunities, excessive screen exposure, especially in the early years, can potentially hinder cognitive growth.

Understanding the Digital Impact of Screen Time

Research indicates that excessive screen time may lead to a range of adverse effects. Firstly, it can result in heightened attention-deficit symptoms. Secondly, it may impair emotional and social intelligence. Additionally, it can contribute to technology addiction. Furthermore, excessive screen time is associated with social isolation. Moreover, it can impair brain development. Lastly, it disrupts sleep patterns.

In a recent study from Singapore, infants and children spending long hours on screens were found to have a decline in cognitive abilities, a trend that persisted even beyond the age of eight.

Excessive screen time among children and adolescents has become a topic of growing concern, with a mounting body of research substantiating its adverse impacts. A comprehensive summary of these findings, supported by numerous citations, sheds light on the far-reaching consequences of prolonged screen exposure on young minds.

1. Attention-Deficit Symptoms

One of the most prominent concerns surrounding excessive screen time is its association with attention-deficit symptoms. Moreover, a plethora of studies have linked extended screen hours to a higher prevalence and severity of attention deficit issues in children.

Furthermore, those who immerse themselves in screens for extended periods tend to exhibit heightened difficulties with maintaining focus. Additionally, they are more susceptible to distractions and face an increased risk of being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)​​.

2. Impaired Emotional and Social Intelligence

Screen time’s detrimental impact on emotional and social development is a growing concern. Excessive screen addiction can lead to heightened frustration, anxiety, and impulsive behaviours. Furthermore, it impedes young children’s ability to interpret facial expressions and acquire essential social skills, which are pivotal for the development of empathy​​.

3. Technology Addiction and Social Isolation:

The term “Screen Dependency Disorder” aptly describes the range of issues stemming from excessive screen time. These issues encompass not only sleep disturbances but also back pain, fluctuations in weight, visual problems, headaches, anxiety, feelings of guilt, and a pervasive sense of loneliness. Moreover, this body of evidence indicates a clear link between screen time, technology addiction, and social isolation​​.

4. Impaired Brain Development

Alarming research has shown that children exposed to more than four hours of daily screen time experience delays in communication and problem-solving skills during early childhood, at ages 2 and 4. These findings indicate a worrisome impact on brain, development​.

5. Disrupted Sleep

Screen time, especially when used close to bedtime, disrupts sleep patterns by suppressing the secretion of melatonin. This hormone is crucial for regulating sleep. Harvard Medical School researchers and others have documented this phenomenon. It is particularly pronounced in teenagers, leading to less restful sleep and increased daytime sleepiness​​.

6. Decline in Cognitive Abilities

A longitudinal cohort study conducted in Singapore, involving 506 children, reaffirmed the detrimental consequences of excessive screen time during infancy. These negative effects on cognitive functions persist beyond the age of eight, raising broader concerns about the impact of screen time on cognitive development, consistent with other research findings​​.

7. Academic Performance

Another concerning aspect is the link between excessive screen time and a decline in academic performance. A study focusing on children aged 4 to 8, who engaged in prolonged screen use, revealed a notable association with emotional dysregulation, which, in turn, had a detrimental impact on their performance in mathematics and literacy​​.The evidence is clear and compelling: excessive screen time poses a myriad of challenges for the development and well-being of children and adolescents. As society grapples with the digital age’s omnipresence, it becomes increasingly crucial for parents, educators, and policymakers to consider these findings and take proactive measures to mitigate the negative consequences of screen exposure on our youngest generation.

The Asian Spectrum

In Asia, the narrative aligns with the global discourse. Research highlights the detrimental effects of prolonged screen time on the cognitive faculties of children.

A study from Guangdong, China, involving a stratified, random sample of 579 five-year-old children, delved into the connection between screen time and cognitive as well as social development. The findings reflected a notable relationship, underpinning the broader argument concerning screen time’s impact on cognitive and social aptitude​​.

Furthermore, a cross-sectional study conducted in the Philippines scrutinised the repercussions of screen time on children’s development, providing a wider Asian perspective on this issue​.

Moreover, evidence from a different study suggests that escalated levels of screen time are correlated with a higher risk of various health issues in school-aged children in China, although the relationships appear to be nuanced and intertwined with other confounding factors​​.

These studies collectively reinforce the consensus about the adverse effects of substantial screen time on children’s cognitive development, demonstrating a consistent pattern across different Asian locales. This consistency amplifies the global concern and accentuates the necessity for measures to mitigate the screen time among the younger demographic to foster a conducive environment for their holistic development.


  1. Small, G. W., Lee, J. Y., Kaufman, A., Jalil, J., Siddarth, P., Gaddipati, H., Moody, T. D., & Bookheimer, S. Y. (2020, June 30). Brain health consequences of digital technology use. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience; Laboratoires Servier.
  2. Pan, W., Liu, J., Geng, M., Ding, P., Wu, X., & Tao, F. (2019, December 10). [Correlation between screen-watching time and emotional problems as well as combination effect of outdoor time among preschool children]. PubMed; National Institutes of Health.
  3. Cerniglia, L., Cimino, S., & Ammaniti, M. (2020, December 6). What are the effects of screen time on emotion regulation and academic achievements? A three-wave longitudinal study on children from 4 to 8 years of age. Journal of Early Childhood Research; SAGE Publishing.×20969846
  4. Skalická, V., Hygen, B. W., Stenseng, F., Kårstad, S. B., & Wichstrøm, L. (2019, February 28). Screen time and the development of emotion understanding from age 4 to age 8: A community study. British Journal of Development Psychology; Wiley-Blackwell.
  5. Santos, R. M. S., Mendes, C., De Miranda, D. M., & Romano‐Silva, M. A. (2022, April 17). The Association between Screen Time and Attention in Children: A Systematic Review. Developmental Neuropsychology; Taylor & Francis.
  6. Santos, R. M. S., Mendes, C., De Miranda, D. M., & Romano‐Silva, M. A. (2022, April 17). The Association between Screen Time and Attention in Children: A Systematic Review. Developmental Neuropsychology; Taylor & Francis.
  7. Dy, A. B. C., Dy, A. B. C., & Santos, S. (2023, June 28). Measuring effects of screen time on the development of children in the Philippines: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health; BioMed Central.
  8. Hu, B. Y. (n.d.). Relationship between Screen Time and Chinese Children’s Cognitive and Social Development.,their%20cognitive%20and%20social%20development
  9. Law, E., Han, M. X., Lai, Z., Lim, S., Ong, Z. Y., Ng, V. Y., Gabard-Durnam, L., Wilkinson, C. L., Levin, A. R., Rifkin‐Graboi, A., Daniel, L. M., Gluckman, P. D., Chong, Y. S., Meaney, M. J., & Nelson, C. A. (2023, March 1). Associations Between Infant Screen Use, Electroencephalography Markers, and Cognitive Outcomes. JAMA Pediatrics; American Medical Association.

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