The Digital Dilemma: Why Limit Young Children’s Use of Interactive Media?

  • Sierra EisenEmail author
  • Angeline S. Lillard


Children are growing up in a digital world. Ninety-eight percent of children have used a mobile touchscreen device before the age of 4 (Rideout, The Common Sense census: Media use by kids age zero to eight, San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media, 2017), and use is quite prevalent even for infants (Bedford et al. Frontiers in Psychology, 7:1108, 2016). Here, we discuss the widespread use of interactive media among children and core differences between digital devices and their media predecessors. We consider the impact of interactive media on children’s physical and cognitive development, focusing on the domains of learning and sleep. Infants and toddlers often fail to transfer information between 2D touchscreen sources and 3D objects (e.g., Moser et al. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 137:137–155, 2015; Zack et al. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27(1):13–26, 2009). However, social scaffolding can facilitate learning from touchscreens (Eisen and Lillard, As good as the real thing? A comparison of learning from apps versus hands-on materials. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development special topic meeting on Technology and Media in Children’s Development, Irvine, CA, 2016; Zimmermann et al. Child Development, 88(6): 2013–2025, 2017) and is a promising new avenue for research. Infants’ use of touchscreen devices is associated with poor quality of nighttime sleep and increased daytime sleep (Cheung et al. Scientific Reports, 7:46104, 2017). This aligns with prior research demonstrating the harmful impact of touchscreens on sleep quality in older children and adolescents (Carter et al. JAMA Pediatrics, 170(12):1202–1208, 2016). Nascent research on the short- and long-term impacts of interactive media leaves open many questions for future examination.


Interactive media Young children Digital devices Touchscreen Learning, sleep 



Preparation of this chapter was supported by grants from the Brady Education and John Templeton Foundations to ASL and a predoctoral fellowship from the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course to SE.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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