It certainly isn’t breaking news that screen time in the toddler years is something that should be avoided as much as possible. In an interesting twist, a recent study exploring the relationship between toddler language development and toddler screen time found that it’s not necessarily the amount of time spent watching videos that is the issue. Rather, the reason why the toddler is watching the video is the important part of predicting the impact on expressive language.

The study looked at children between 17 and 30 months of age and had caregivers document how much time their children spent on video/TV, video games, video chat, and e-books. Caregivers also noted the reason why screentime was being used whether that was for calming/babysitting benefits, for educational purposes, or to engage with family members. These factors were then compared to the children’s vocabulary and length using two or more words together.

Results show that children between the ages of 17 and 30 months spend an average of nearly two hours per day watching videos. This is a 100 percent increase from prior estimates gathered before the COVID pandemic. “Children exposed to videos by caregivers for their calming or ‘babysitting’ benefits tended to use phrases and sentences with fewer words,” as explained on “However, the negative impact on language skills was mitigated when videos were used for educational purposes or to foster social connections—such as through video chats with family members.”

“In those first couple years of life, language is one of the core components of development that we know media can impact,” said Sarah Kucker, assistant professor of psychology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences, to “There’s less research focused on toddlers using digital media than older ages, which is why we’re trying to understand better how digital media affects this age group and what type of screen time is beneficial and what is not.”

Previous studies have shown that babies exposed to screens can have an increased risk of having sensory processing issues as toddlers. But let’s be real. Parents need to get things done and sometimes that means giving our kids some screen time.

In addition, once kids are well into their toddler years, there are television shows like Miss Rachel, Peppa Pig, and Daniel Tiger that actually aid in language development.

The takeaway: We all just need to do our best to limit screen time as we can, understanding that it is not always possible.

Your daily dose of joy and connection
Get the Tinybeans app