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The Effects of Screen Time on the Developing Brain

Reported by:
Barbara Knappmeyer

Presented by:

The New York Academy of Sciences


Screens were ubiquitous before, but during the COVID-19 pandemic they became a lifeline for everyone’s professional and personal lives. Children spend more time on electronic devices than ever before—with virtual school, video streaming, social media, and multiplayer games. Many parents are concerned about the impact excessive screen time might have on the developing brain. In this e-Briefing experts discuss the pros and cons of screen time as well as its effects on the developing brain, and give practical tips for parents navigating the digital world with their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this eBriefing, You’ll Learn:

  • The content of digital media matters; parents should differentiate between types of screen time.
  • Shared engagement with digital media is important.
  • There are resources available to help parents navigate the digital world.
  • “Real-world” parenting strategies can and should be extended into the digital world.


Sonia Livingstone, DPhil
London School of Economics and Political Science

Michael Preston, PhD
Sesame Workshop

Jenny Radesky, MD
Department of Pediatrics, University of Michigan Medical School

Michael Robb, PhD
Common Sense Media

COVID-19: Screen Time and the Developing Brain

Sonia Livingstone, DPhil

London School of Economics and Political Science

Dr. Livingstone is a Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her DPhil in Psychology from the University of Oxford. She has published 20 books on media, especially children’s rights, risks, and opportunities in the digital world and media literacy, including “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age” (New York University Press, with Julian Sefton-Green) and most recently “Parenting for a Digital Future: How hopes and fears about technology shape children’s lives” (Oxford University Press, with Alicia Blum-Ross). Recipient of many honors, she has advised the UK and European government and the United Nations on children’s internet safety and rights in the digital environment. Dr. Livingstone currently directs the Digital Futures Commission (with the 5Rights Foundation) and the Global Kids Online project (with UNICEF). She is Deputy Director of the UKRI-funded Nurture Network and leads work packages for two European H2020-funded projects: ySKILLS (Youth Skills) and CO:RE (Children Online: Research and Evidence). Founder of the EC-funded 33 country EU Kids Online research network, she is a #SaferInternet4EU Ambassador for the European Commission.

Michael Preston, PhD

Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

Michael Preston is the Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a research and innovation lab that focuses on the challenges of educating children in a rapidly changing media landscape. The Cooney Center conducts original research on emerging education technologies and collaborates across sectors to put this research into action. Prior to joining Sesame Workshop, Michael’s work focused on using technology to improve teaching and learning, drive student agency and interest, and create models for systemic change in K-12 and university contexts. He is a co-founder of CSforALL, the hub for the national Computer Science for All movement. He designed and led digital learning initiatives at the NYC Department of Education and at Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. He earned a PhD in Cognitive Science in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and a BA in East Asian Studies from Harvard University.

Jenny Radesky, MD

University of Michigan

Dr. Radesky is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School. She received her M.D. from Harvard Medical School, trained at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center, and her clinical work focuses on developmental and behavioral conditions in low-income and underserved populations. Her NIH-funded research focuses on the use of mobile/interactive technology by parents and young children and how this relates to child self-regulation and parent-child interaction. She was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statements Media and Young Minds in 2016 and Digital Advertising to Children in 2020.

Michael Robb, PhD

Common Sense Media

Michael Robb is senior director of research at Common Sense, overseeing the research program, evaluation of organization impact, and program development research. Dr. Robb has been involved in issues involving media and children for over 20 years. He has published research on the impact of electronic media on young children’s language development, early literacy outcomes, and problem-solving abilities in a variety of academic journals. He also has supervised community educational outreach efforts, helping parents and teachers make the most of quality children’s programming. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and many other news outlets. Dr. Robb received his B.A. from Tufts University and M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from UC Riverside

Further Readings


Livingstone S, Blum-Ross A.

Parenting for a digital future: how parents’ hopes and fears about technology shape children’s lives

2020 July 1; New York: Oxford University Press

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

The state of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World

2017 Dec

Livingstone S

Digital by default: the new normal of family life under COVID-19

Parenting for a Digital Future: A Blog about growing up in a digital world. 2020 May 13.


Sesame Street Resources to Support Children and Parents during COVID-19

Caring for Each Other

Preston M

Re-evaluating what matters during a time of crisis

Joan Ganz Cooney Center Blog. 2020 April 1.


Radesky J, Christakis D, Hill et al.

Media and Young Minds

Pediatrics. 2016 Nov 1; 138(5).

Radesky J, Chassiakos YR, Ameenuddin N, Navsaria D.

Digital Advertising to Children

Pediatrics. 2020 July 1; 146(1).


Robb M

Screen Time in the Age of the Coronavirus

Common Sense Media Blog. 2020 April 7.

Common Sense Media Recommendation for Educational Apps

Common Sense Media Quarterly Survey Series

How Teens Are Coping and Connecting in the Time of the Coronavirus

2020 April 8