Screen Time and Language Development: Does it Matter?
As life is busy and parents need to keep their children occupied while they complete important daily living tasks, it is easy to turn to screen time as a solution. Screen time is increasingly easy to access, and new content keeps children engaged. The discussion of screen time and its effect on early child development has been going on for decades and, now that it is so accessible, is a common topic that comes up during speech and language sessions with little ones.
When discussing this topic, two key words come into play: quantity (how much screen time) and quality (what the child is watching). Overall, more screen time (including background television) is associated with lower language skills in children. Screen time, when viewed alone, takes away time from building interactional skills with parents and others which is important in enhancing children’s language skills. On the other hand, better quality of screen time (educational programs or viewing with a parent or other communication partner) can have a positive impact on language skills. With that said, benefits of screen time are likely to occur in later childhood as they can gain information during educational shows and talk about them while there is no benefit in earlier childhood.
So, can my child have screen time?
- If your child is under 18 months of age, it is not recommended. The pediatric guidelines recommend that there is no screen exposure before 18 months of age.
- After 18 months of age, yes, but limit the quantity of exposure (one hour or less per day is recommended for children aged 2-5)
What can I do to make screen time have a positive effect on language skills?
- Educational programs- put on something educational that labels objects, pauses to allow for interaction from your child, and models age-appropriate vocabulary.
- Co-view– watch the program with your child and label objects, ask questions, and pause to allow for discussion.
- Pause the program– show your child the concept in real life, so they can build real connections while watching the program. Ask what happened and what might happen next to increase comprehension and language acquisition.
- Interaction– any interaction with the child while having screen exposure is the best way for screen time to have a positive effect on their language skills. Children aged 2-5 learn expressive language skills best from their interactions with adults.
In conclusion, children can have access to screen time and can even benefit when quantity and quality are taken into consideration. Better quality screen exposure is associated with language skills, but too much screen time, too early, is associated with lower language skills. Quality screen time can promote language skills, but it should still be used in moderation.
Madigan, S., McArthur, B. R., Anhorn, C., Eirich, R., & Christakis, D. A. (2020). Associations Between Screen Use and Child Language Skills: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics, 174(7), 665-675. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0327.
Ponti, M. (2022). Screen time and preschool children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Position Statement: Canadian Pediatric Society. Retrieved online at: https://cps.ca/en/documents/position/screen-time-and-preschool-children
Blog Post by Speech-Language Pathologist, Kristen Lipp