RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT: Toddler media exposure and language skills development

STUDY AUTHORS: Jaclyn M. Dynia, Rebecca A. Dore, Randi A. Bates, Laura M. Justice


Early childhood is a time of immense language growth. Some studies show that media exposure may be associated with lower language development during toddlerhood. Some research suggests that children from low-SES backgrounds do not experience the same language-rich learning environment as their middle-SES peers; and other studies suggests that media exposure is more prevalent in low-SES homes. Due to the concerns about media exposure and child development, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screen time be limited to one hour or less per day for children under age 5. With many popular press articles citing the AAP recommendations to provide practical advice to families, more research is needed to understand whether the limitations of media exposure are linked to child outcomes, including language skills.

This Crane study examined whether the quantity of toddlers’ exposure to media was related to language skills and whether meeting the AAP’s recommendations of limiting media exposure to one hour or less per day was related to language skills. Researchers examined these associations in a sample of 157 toddlers living in homes where the families had low incomes.  Toddlers were about two years of age during the first visit when parents reported on toddlers’ exposure to media in the home. Toddlers were about three years of age during the second visit when direct measures of toddlers’ language skills were assessed.


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The toddlers studied were exposed to an average media use of 3.79 hours a day; there was a wide range: some toddlers had 0 hours of media, while others had up to 13.68 hours of media daily.

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When examining the variable for following the AAP recommendation, only one in four (24%) of these toddlers (n = 30 toddlers) were exposed to the AAP recommendation of an hour or less of media a day.

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Media exposure was only significantly related to toddlers’ expressive language (a child’s ability to communicate their wants and needs) and not receptive language (a child’s ability to understand spoken language) or vocabulary.

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Although the AAP recommendations are based on research, the evidence is mixed for the link between media exposure and language development. Additionally, the specific one-hour recommendation has not been empirically investigated. The current finding suggests that, at least for the language domain, the AAP recommendation may not be a meaningful cutoff, particularly for diverse groups of children.