Moving Beyond Screen Time

Redefining Developmentally Appropriate Technology Use in Early Childhood Education

by Lindsay Daugherty, Rafiq Dossani, Erin-Elizabeth Johnson, Cameron Wright

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Research Question

  1. How do we define developmentally appropriate technology use in early childhood education?

Conversations about what constitutes "developmentally appropriate" use of technology in early childhood education have, to date, focused largely on a single, blunt measure — screen time — that fails to capture important nuances, such as what type of media a child is accessing and whether technology use is taking place solo or with peers. Using screen time as the primary measure of developmentally appropriate use has become increasingly inappropriate as new technologies are ever more rapidly introduced and integrated into all aspects of life, and as we learn more about the potential benefits of technology. The authors challenge the traditional emphasis on screen time and discuss how to move toward a more comprehensive definition of developmentally appropriate technology use for young children.

Key Findings

Screen Time May No Longer Be an Appropriate Measure for Technology Use

  • For many years, "appropriate" technology use by young children has been defined largely by the amount of time a child spends using technology.
  • In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that screen time be limited to two hours a day for children over age two, and that no screen time be allowed for children younger than that.
  • However, these guidelines were established when television was the primary form of technology that most young children consumed, and the guidelines were intended to limit the passive, sedentary patterns of use that typically accompany television viewing.

Technology and Use Patterns Have Changed

  • A more comprehensive definition of developmentally appropriate technology use by young children would be useful. This definition should consider what technology and content are used, how they are used, and why they are used — all in addition to how often they are used.

Six Considerations in Redefining Technology Use

  • Is it purposefully integrated to support learning?
  • Is the use solitary or taking place with others?
  • Is the activity sedentary or mobile?
  • What are the content and features of the media?
  • Are the device's features age-appropriate?
  • What is the total screen time involved?


  • Changing policy mandates and funding at the local, state, and national levels, though typically a slow process, will be critical to redefining developmentally appropriate technology use in classrooms.
  • Simple, clear guidance (e.g., a short fact sheet that defines developmentally appropriate use, public awareness campaigns) could immediately begin to influence ECE providers' and families' understanding of appropriate technology use.
  • To address concerns among early childhood educators about the lack of models or exemplars of effective, appropriate integration of technology into ECE, demonstrations of appropriate use should be developed and distributed to provide support to these educators.
  • Existing software and application rating systems are useful in providing simple, accessible assessments of media content can help busy or uncertain providers and families, and these types of systems should continue to be supported and updated to provide support.

This project was conducted within RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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