Screen time affects child sensory dev't | Inquirer Technology

Screen time affects how kids process sensory information

09:37 AM January 25, 2024

A new study suggests babies and toddlers may develop atypical sensory-processing behaviors from excessive screen time. Some demand more sensations, and others become more averse to them. Moreover, specific children respond slower to their surroundings. As a result, they believe it has important implications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.

Children must adapt to the latest technologies to prepare for our digitalized world. However, parents must carefully consider how much time their kids spend in front of screens. It significantly impacts their development and well-being and could carry over to adulthood. That is why more people should learn about such findings.

This article will elaborate on the latest discoveries regarding screen time and child development. Later, I will tackle another growing psychological phenomenon due to increased online time.


How does screen time affect children?

Illustration of a child surrounded by screens, symbolizing the various impacts of screen time on children.

Researchers conducted this study to understand how time spent on gadgets affects a child’s ability to interpret sensory input and respond accordingly. They started by taking data from the US National Children’s Study.


It includes information about the screen exposure of children aged 12, 18, and 24 months. Also, their parents completed the Infant/Toddler Sensory Profile (ISTP), a questionnaire that reveals children’s sensory-processing skills.

The survey reveals behavioral patterns for “sensation seeking,” “sensation avoiding,” and “low registration.” Here’s what these terms mean, according to ScienceAlert:

  • Sensation seeking is when a child looks for more intense sensory stimulations.
  • Sensation Avoiding is when a kid steers clear of stimuli.
  • Low registration means a child responds slower to stimuli than others.

The latest screen time study analyzes responses from caregivers of 1,471 children recorded between 2011 and 2014. Here are the results:

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  • 1-year-olds with any amount of screen time had a 105% higher chance of displaying high sensory behaviors related to low registration.
  • Each additional hour for 18-month-olds caused a 23% higher likelihood of exhibiting high sensory behaviors related to sensory avoiding and low registration.
  • 2-year-olds had a 20% higher chance of high sensation seeking, sensory sensitivity, and sensation avoidance for each extra hour of screen time.

In other words, children require more stimulation to notice their surroundings and pay attention. “This association could have important implications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, as atypical sensory processing is much more prevalent in these populations,” says Drexel University ophthalmologist Karen Heffler.

“Repetitive behavior, such as that seen in autism spectrum disorder, is highly correlated with atypical sensory processing,” Heffler says.


“Future work may determine whether early life screen time could fuel the sensory brain hyperconnectivity seen in autism spectrum disorders, such as heightened brain responses to sensory stimulation.”

How is screen time affecting relationships?

Image portraying individuals engrossed in screens, highlighting the influence of screen time on relationships.

A psychological phenomenon from 1965 is spreading across the Internet: parasocial relationships. They occur when people emotionally attach to a media character who does not reciprocate their feelings. 

Previously, it manifested in radio listeners feeling like they were friends with a DJ despite never meeting them in person. Yet, they can be psychologically normal and healthy, Dr. David Giles, a Reader in Media Psychology at the University of Winchester, agrees:

“They are meaningful, sometimes as meaningful as actual social relationships because even people we don’t know can have profound significance in our lives, as inspiration or reassurance.” 

Cynthia Vinney, a psychology writer for ThoughtCo, said, “This response does not mean that the individuals believe the interaction is real.”

She added, “Despite media consumers’ knowledge that the interaction is an illusion, however, their perception will cause them to react to the situation as if it were real.”

However, more parasocial relationships are becoming unhealthy due to online streaming. It enables content creators to respond to their viewers directly.

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They could also tag their favorite comments, making a random fan feel special. Unfortunately, some convince themselves they’ve established a relationship with the content creator. 

More of these relationships become obsessions, leading people to stalk their favorite celebrities. Eventually, they bombard their favorite personality with messages asking why they haven’t responded.

Some grow to resent their idols once they realize content creators have different online and real-life personas. Worse, they could devolve into self-destructive behaviors. 


Many children become more desensitized to their surroundings due to increased screen time. Consequently, low registration may lead to difficulty paying attention or responding to their environments properly.

Researchers need further analysis to determine the causal relationship between screen time and children’s sensory processing. Nevertheless, they recommend reducing or avoiding gadgets in kids younger than two years. 

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Learn more about this child development study on the JAMA Network. Also, check out the latest digital tips and trends at Inquirer Tech.


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