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Screen time and developmental and behavioral outcomes for preschool children



One pressing question in the field of pediatrics is whether a dose–response relation is observed between hours of screen time and child outcomes. This study examined the association between hours of screen time (≤1 vs 2 vs ≥3 h/day) and children’s developmental and behavioral outcomes.


This study included data from 1994 mothers and children in Calgary, Canada, drawn from the All Our Families cohort. At 36 months, children’s screen time (h/day), behavior problems, developmental milestones, and vocabulary acquisition were assessed via maternal report. Socio-demographic factors and baseline levels of performance at 24 months were included as covariates.


Compared to ≤1 h/day (47%; n = 935), children using screens 2 h (36%; n = 725) or ≥3 h/day (17%; n = 333) had an increased likelihood of reported behavioral problems (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 1.30–1.90), delayed achievement of developmental milestones (AOR 1.41–1.68), and poorer vocabulary acquisition (AOR 1.94).


At 36 months, an association was observed between screen time and children’s developmental, language, and behavioral outcomes, suggesting that duration of screen time is associated with poor child development outcomes. Findings provide support for screen time guidelines and emphasize the need for childcare professionals to discuss screen time guidelines with families.


  • International guidelines recommend that preschoolers spend no more than 1 h/day viewing screens.

  • Research is needed to determine if there is a relation between screen time levels and child developmental and behavioral outcomes.

  • Compared to ≤1 h/day, children viewing screens 2 or ≥3 h/day had an increased likelihood of behavioral problems, delayed achievement of developmental milestones, and poorer vocabulary acquisition.

  • Findings highlight the association between duration of screen time and factors of child development.

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Fig. 1: Effect of screen time on child at-risk status for developmental and behavioral outcomes.


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We acknowledge the contributions of the All Our Families research team and thank the participants who took part in the study. The All Our Families study was supported by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Interdisciplinary (Team grant 200700595), the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the Max Bell Foundation to S.T. Research support was provided by the Canada Research Chairs program to S.M. Postdoctoral Fellowship support was provided by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute to B.M.

Author information




B.M. and S.M. conceptualized and designed the study, conducted data analyses, drafted the manuscript, and reviewed and revised the manuscript. S.T. conceptualized the cohort study, designed the data collection instruments and study methodology, secured funding for data collection, and reviewed the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sheri Madigan.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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All participants provided written informed consent to participate.

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McArthur, B.A., Tough, S. & Madigan, S. Screen time and developmental and behavioral outcomes for preschool children. Pediatr Res (2021).

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