Technology has rapidly advanced over the last 10 years. Cell Phones are better, televisions are bigger; screens permeate almost every area of life. Given the pandemic that overtook the year 2020, virtual schooling became the new ‘norm’. Some students have only received remote instruction for over a year, sitting in front of screens to complete each and every task. It is difficult to go anywhere and not see a screen. At restaurants, TV’s hang on the wall. People are on their smartphones constantly – checking social media, running a google search, and shopping virtually. With parents working from home these days, screens are an easy way to pacify children. But, is screen time beneficial for children? How does screen time affect a child’s speech and language development?
Current Screen Time in the USA:
In 2014, an economist in Florida found that children age 2 and under in the United States averaged 3 hours, 3 minutes a day of screen time. Children between the ages of 3 to 5 spend 2 hours, 28 minutes a day in front of screens (1). The Kaiser Family Foundation and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently estimate that children between the ages of 8 to 10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen, kids ages 11 to 14 spend an average of nine hours per day in front of a screen, and youth ages 15 to 18 spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours per day in front of a screen (2).
In summary, children are averaging more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen – this includes babies and toddlers.
Screen Time Recommendations:
What are current recommendations for screen time? Current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate that children under 2 years of age should have zero hours of screen time. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 can view up to one hour, but no more. And children over 5 should also try to limit screen time to no more than 2 hours per day. The World Health Organization also recommends that children under 1 year old should not be exposed to electronic screens and that children between the ages of 2 and 4 should not have more than one hour of “sedentary screen time” each day. Limiting screen time for children under the age of 5 may result in children who are more active, and as a result, physically healthier (3).
Screen Time and Speech:
In a recent study, researchers found a link between handheld screens and toddler’s speech and language development. The more time the toddlers spent on handheld screens every day, the higher the risk each toddler had of exhibiting an expressive speech delay (4). Of note, this delay was observed only in expressive (verbal) communication and was not present in social skills or receptive communication. Some research has established clear connections between screen time and language delays. Other research is less conclusive. But the general recommendation overall is that less screen time is better.
Increased screen time can also affect a child’s sleeping habits. Receiving the right amount of sleep is imperative for children as they grow. The less adequate sleep they have the less active they are during the day physically and mentally (3).
In today’s world it is virtually impossible to shield your child from screens. But, if your child must view screens, ensure the screen time is promoting good speech and language rather than mind numbing.
Making Screen Time Beneficial:
- Ensure that screen time is educational. This could look like allowing your child to play games and apps that practice math skills, learning shapes, colors, letters, etc.
- Use screen time to build relationships with family members. If your child is going to be on a handheld device, allow them to facetime or video chat with a family member.
- Provide commentary during times of sedentary screen viewing. For example, if your child is watching a TV show, watch it with your child. Ask questions about the characters and scenes and prompt grammatically appropriate responses from your child.
Check out these references below to learn more.
1) (JAMA Pediatrics, Vol. 173, No. 4, 2019).