With the turn of the 21st century, technology has taken over the world. The paradigm shift towards tech has also facilitated the wide use of screens, as observed in today’s modern smartphones, laptops, and computers.
But it was only a matter of time before toymakers infused children’s playtime with tech elements. Most toys advertised as cognitive-boosting have innate tech integrations, and toys with screens are increasingly becoming prevalent.
Experts argue that battery-operated toys are not ideal for children, but how do toys with screens fare? Are screened toys also bad for kids?
Read what experts think below!
What Do Current Research Papers Say About Screen & Kids?
There are limited longitudinal data to furnish a one-size-fits-all recommendation on whether toys with screens are bad for kids. But there are existing research papers and expert advice that may give light on how screens must be used around children of all ages.
But here are the things we know as of writing:
• Screen time is bad for children 0-3 years old
Screen exposure to children ages 24 and 36 months was linked to poorer performance in children’s screening tests for developmental milestones (cognitive, behavioral, social).
Although there’s no inverse association between increased screen time and poorer performance, the study can be a conclusive guide to the adverse effect of screen time on young children.
So letting toddlers play virtual games or apps through a screen will be counterproductive even if the screened toys are advertised to boost brain function. Simple toys are better for toddlers this age.
Related: Top 10 STEM Toys for Toddlers (Best Picks for 2022)
• Babies and toddlers don’t learn from a screen
A review by a developmental psychologist revealed that lessons carried out through television don't teach 0-2-year-olds as much as live interaction. This research suggests that screens are ineffective for teaching toddler-aged kids and below.
If you want to use toys to your child’s advantage, steer clear from toys with screens and divert your focus towards open-ended, traditional/retro toys or STEM toys.
Related: Best Science Toys for Kids This 2022 | Our Top 10 Picks
• The inability of toddlers to learn from screens is conceptual
Toddlers seem to view video information from screens as irrelevant to real life. The study suggests that the medium used can obscure the message being conveyed, and children are more perceptive of receiving information when given live.
• Co-viewing is important to ensure toddler learning
Although toddlers are not fond of learning from screens, there are still workarounds to ensure that kids absorb the on-screen lessons. The research revealed that co-viewing and modeling could help toddlers learn better, suggesting knowledge acquisition from screened toys is possible, provided parents will diligently walk the kids through.
Playing alone and playing with others is important for children. Still, parents looking to use their kids’ playtime to do their personal errands shouldn’t let kids play with screened toys unless they can participate in the playtime and teach their children along the way.
• Educational screen time can be helpful for 3-5-year-olds
Slow-paced, thoughtfully designed children’s media is helpful for preschoolers aged 3-5. Literacy skills of preschoolers improved after watching “Super Why!” for one episode a day and have outperformed the control group in almost all key early precursors for conventional reading success.
We may infer from the study that toys with screens can potentially be good for preschool-aged kids, provided that the screened toys are designed to impart educational lessons and play in moderate periods.
• Exceeding screen time recommendations led to lower cognitive assessment scores
A cross-sectional observational study linked the association between movement behavior and cognitive performance.
Candian guidelines for children and youth indicates at least one hour of physical activity daily with less than 2 hours of screen recreation per day. Children ages 8-11 who exceeded the recommendation scored lower on cognitive assessment tests.
Although the influence of ample sleep came into play, excessive screen exposure (or playtime with screened toys) can have adverse impacts on children’s cognitive function.
Playing with toys with screens can be useful for children, but they must balance their playtime by infusing active and open-ended play as a form of physical activity. Sufficient sleep is also equally vital for kids’ healthy dispositions.
• Screen time does not affect teens’ psychological well-being, but moderation is key
Cambridge and Oxford-hailing authors teamed up to study the effect of screen time on teenagers. They measured screen exposure using time-use diaries, and the results reveal that screen time has no noticeable effects on teens’ psychological well-being.
Conversely, supporting research demonstrated a U-shaped relationship between screen time and adolescent health, suggesting that moderate screen exposure is critical to meet optimum health factors.
Screen time is no longer a big issue once children enter their teenage years. But keeping their screen exposure in moderation is still necessary to maintain peak health.
So Are Toys With Screens Really Bad for Kids?
Yes and No, depending on how young a child we’re talking about.
- For kids 0-3 years old, toys with screens (or battery-operated toys) are bad and highly discouraged.
- Playing with screened toys is okay for kids 4-5 years old so long as they play in moderation.
- For kids 6 and beyond, toys with screens are allowed for moderate usage (less than 2 hours), provided they also spend time in active physical activity and receive an ample amount of sleep.
Screen time will inevitably increase as children get older, so there’s no point in keeping them completely remote from screens. But keeping them under the expert-recommended screen exposure can help optimize their “learnings obtained” to “screen usage” ratio.
What is the Advised Screen Exposure Period for Children?
Although there is no in-depth research describing the long-term effects of how well screen time impacts children’s cognition and overall behavior, Dr. Ameera Nauman, a pediatrician for OSF Healthcare, has guidelines on the prescribed screen time for children. As a gist:
Absolute zero screen time for children under the age of 2
Less than an hour of daily screen exposure for children ages 2-5
A maximum of 2 hours of recreational screen time daily (school-related screen time not included) for children ages 5 up to 17
We have a dedicated article that outlines the recommended screen time for kids as advised by the expert and the perils of excessive screen exposure. You may freely visit the hyperlink to learn more.
Toys with Screens Can Be Good, but Traditional STEM Toys are Better!
Toys are not only fun pastimes, but there are so many concepts and skills that kids can learn when playing with the right kind of toys. STEM toys impart science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts to children, but they don’t necessarily need screens to teach kids. Toys like kids’ microscopes or experiment kits may be great products, to begin with.
Our buying guide for STEM toys can help you buy the best no-screen STEM toys for your child while ensuring their optimum learning.
Who knows? The STEM toys you get might even pique their interest, leading to high-paying STEM careers in the future!
Interested? We Have Some STEM Toys for You!
TheSTEMKids have advocated to nurture today’s young learners and build tomorrow’s experts through engaging and fun scientific toys! Feel free to visit our arsenal of no-screen science gadgets to check which is the best fit for your child’s age, needs, and interests.