Screen time linked to developmental delay

Preschool directors believe too much screen time is hampering children’s transition from preschool to school, researchers have found.

Conducted by University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers Dr Kobie Boshoff, Alessia Pivato and Sarah Seekamp, the study explores the concerns of 41 South Australian preschool directors, finding that an overuse of screen time, in lieu of quality play, is substantially impacting children’s development, putting them behind their peers as they start school.

Paediatric expert and Director of UniSA’s International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, Dr Kobie Boshoff, says reducing children’s screen time and replacing it with more developmentally appropriate playtime will help improve poor rates of school readiness.

“School readiness is all about the ability of a child to make a successful transition from preschool into formal school. But as research shows, nearly one in four South Australian children are not meeting the mark,” Boshoff said.

“In our research, preschool directors indicate that families are overusing screens as ‘babysitters’ and that this could be contributing to lower levels of social skill development, concentration, problem solving abilities and self-regulation – all key skills that improve school readiness.

“This is acutely important for all families and children, but especially so for families living in rural and low socioeconomic areas, where the risk of developmental delay is known to be statistically higher.”

Boshoff said preschool teachers could suggest ideas to parents for alternative, developmentally appropriate activities for children and families.

However, teachers did not need to avoid screen time in preschool because there’s too much use at home. Rather preschools need to use screentime in a supervised and time limited manner.

In our research, preschool directors indicate that families are overusing screens as ‘babysitters.

“Children do need exposure to current technology and to feel comfortable and familiar with it. Preschools can role-model healthy screen time use across all developmental domains. They can learn about what a balanced day looks like and how to set limits for yourself with timers; taking breaks and not eating in front of the screens.

“The take home message from our findings is the need for teachers to role model healthy screen use, to ensure their curriculum is balanced across all developmental domains, and to identify and support children whose development is influenced by too much screen time.”


In Australia, health guidelines for preschool-aged children (2–5 years) recommend no more than one hour of screens per day, which includes television, computers and smart devices.

“While screen time has certainly become a normal part of everyday life, there has to be a balance, and we must educate parents about the adverse effect of too much screen-time on children’s development,” Boshoff says.

“Young children need to be spending more time riding scooters, being outside, or playing with traditional toys such as blocks, cars, or puzzles.

“A balanced, healthy lifestyle incorporating weekly time for physical activity, positive play time with parents and peers and giving children time to develop independence in their daily routines, are some examples of healthy activities for families.

“The result is that many more preschools have children with greater needs, leaving them in desperate need for early childhood interventions such as occupational therapy, speech pathology and physiotherapy.

“Providing this support is vital to ensure that children have a positive experience of the early years of school and that strong foundations for learning occur from day one.

“We do need to support our children to make most use of their learning opportunities and if we can get the message out that we all, as a society, need to look out for how our modern lifestyles are influencing our children’s development, then perhaps we will start seeing some positive change”.