Children learn to talk and communicate through interactions with other people. That’s the way it has always been and that’s the way it will continue to be, despite any new technology that comes our way. The first years of life are crucial for your child’s language development. It is when their brain is the most receptive to learning new language and is building communication pathways that will be with them for the rest of their lives.
Once that window closes, it is much more difficult for someone to learn and develop language skills. That’s why it’s harder for you to learn a foreign language as an adult and those rare children who were raised by wolves in the woods have a hard time learning to communicate efficiently.
Every minute that your child spends in front of a screen is one fewer minute that he could spend learning from your interactions with him or practising his interactions with you. Screen time takes away from time that could (and should) be spent on person-to-person interactions.
Limiting Screen Time
Screen time refers to any time that a child spends with a screen in front of his face. That includes a television, cinema screen, smart phone, tablet, computer, hand-held video game device, DVD player in the car, or anything else with a screen and moving pictures. It doesn’t matter if your child is watching an educational video or playing a game, screen time is screen time.
What is the harm?
Researchers are beginning to publish more and more studies about the detrimental effects of screen time on language development.
A study by Chonchaiya and Pruksananonda found that children who began watching TV before 12 months and who watched more than 2 hours of TV per day were six times more likely to have language delays! While Duch et. al. also found that children who watched more than 2 hours of TV per day had increased odds of low communication scores.
There are more studies out there that continue to show that watching TV early often increases your child’s chances of having a speech delay. That could mean late talking and/or problems with language in school later in life.
Increased screen time has also been linked to attention problems, short-term memory problems, and reading problems. All of which can play into your child’s ability to learn language as well.
What if a child already has a language or speech delay?
There is no way to tell if too much screen time caused a child’s speech delay or language problems. Most likely, it was a combination of factors, so there’s no use blaming yourself or feeling guilty. However, continued overuse of screen time could be making your child’s language delay worse or keeping it from getting better.
How much is too much??
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages TV and other media use by children younger than 2 years and encourages interactive play. A child isn’t going to suddenly stop talking if he sees a few minutes of television so don’t worry if an emergency situation pops up and you allow your little one in front of a screen for a few minutes. But don’t make a habit out of it.
After 2 years of age parents are advised not to go above 2 hours per day but try to keep it much less than that.
Parents can try cutting out screen time with their child entirely, if possible, for 30 days. See if you notice any changes in his communication. After that, you can reintroduce short amounts of screen time to see if there are any adverse effects.
When you do reintroduce it, you may find that your child’s attention suffers or that she talks less when allowed more screen time. Then, you may want to consider continuing to have no screen time. If your child seems to do ok with short amounts of screen time, it’s probably fine to let them be. But, don’t get too carried away. Keep screen time to a minimum.
What can I do with my child instead of screen time?
Try some of these alternatives to screen time that are way better for your child’s development and will help you build a better relationship with your child as well. Keep in mind it’s important for you to put away your screens when you interact with your child as well.
- Talk with your child. If your child is only giving you one-word responses, try asking more specific questions (like “who did you eat lunch with”) instead of open-ended questions (like “how was your day?”).
- Sing songs
- Read a book
- Play with your child’s favourite toy
- Colour a picture
- Make a craft project
- Play outside
- Go for a walk
- Take your child to a park
- Go for a car ride and talk about what you see
- Go to the library and look for books on a topic that interests your child
- Play a board game
- Teach your child a new skill
- Teach or practice a sport in the back yard
- Ride bikes
- Go somewhere with an indoor play-place
- Call up some friends and have a play date
- Cook something in the kitchen together
- Plant seeds or plants in a garden
©Lifestart Foundation 2018