How Technology Affects The Attention Span of Children

As more and more children are exposed to increased amounts of screen time, it is important to take a close look at how technology affects the attention span of children.

As more and more children are exposed to increased amounts of screen time, it is important to take a close look at how technology affects the attention span of children. The latest research indicates that children spend hours per day interacting with screens. During the early years of childhood development, hours of screen time can take away time that could be devoted to free play, fine motor, gross motor and visual perceptual skill practice in the real world.

Technology and Attention Span of Preschoolers

On average, preschoolers spend about 2 hours per day of screen time. A recent study in Canada examined the associations between screen-time and externalizing behavior (e.g. inattention and aggression) for 2,427 families. The results of the study indicated that over 95% of the children had access to screen time.

The following results were found for the children who participated in screen time for more than 2 hours/day compared to the children who participated in less than 30 minutes/day of screen time:

  • five times more likely to exhibit clinically significant “externalizing” behavioral problems such as inattention.
  • over seven times more likely to meet the criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • there was no significant association between screen-time and aggressive behaviors (Tamana et al, 2019).

Technology and the Attention Span of Older Children

After preschool, screen time appears to continue to be associated with decreased attention span and behavior problems. One study of second and third-grade students indicated that television viewing time was positively associated with social problems, delinquent behavior, aggressive behavior, externalization, and total problem scores. The risks associated with watching television for more than 2 hours increased for children who were older, male, had decreased social skills and had increased attention problems (Ozmert et al, 2002).

Pediatrics published a study on the effects of television and video gaming on attention problems. One thousand three hundred twenty-three children (6-12 years old) were followed for 13 months. Television and video gaming use were recorded. The average screen time use (TV and video games) was 4.26 hours. Teachers reported on attention problems in students. The results indicated that exposure to television and video games was associated with attention problems in middle childhood. The association existed for television and video game use (Swing et al, 2010).

Another study found that the mean of hours of television viewing during childhood was associated with symptoms of attention problems in adolescence. The researchers concluded that childhood television viewing may contribute to the development of attention problems and suggest that the effects may be long-lasting (Landhuis et al, 2007).

Suggestions to Reduce Excessive Screen Time in Children

The most important step is to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for screen time in young children. The recommendations are as follows:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 

Parents and professionals need to set a good example as well. Children model what they see. If you want children to reduce their screen time, reduce your own screen time as well.

Be sure to provide children with ample opportunities for open-ended, active play to help young children acheive optimal developmental skills.

Need specific activity suggestions to reduce excessive screen time?

Play – Move – Develop:  100 reproducible games and activity ideas to encourage motor skill development and learning in children.  A great resource for fun, home exercise program activities.

Read more on excessive screen time and children.

Read about what professionals and parents had to say about screen time and young children in order to determine if today’s children are physically ready for school.


Landhuis CE, Poulton R, Welch D, Hancox RJ. Does childhood television viewing lead to attention problems in adolescence? Results from a prospective longitudinal study. Pediatrics. 2007;120(3):532–7. pmid:17766526

Ozmert E, Toyran M, Yurdakok K. Behavioral correlates of television viewing in primary school children evaluated by the child behavior checklist. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2002;156(9):910–4. pmid:12197799

Swing, Edward L., Gentile, Douglas A., Anderson, Craig A., Walsh, David A.
Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems
Pediatrics 2010 0: peds.2009-1508

Tamana SK, Ezeugwu V, Chikuma J, Lefebvre DL, Azad MB, Moraes TJ, et al. (2019) Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth cohort study. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0213995.

As more and more children are exposed to increased amounts of screen time, it is important to take a close look at how technology affects the attention span of children.