Screen time refers to any time that your child is in front of a television, movie theater screen, smart phone, tablet, computer, or hand-held video game device.  Even if your child is watching an educational video, it’s considered screen time.  Is there a possibility that prolonged exposure to screen time can contribute to speech and language delays?  Some experts think so. 

The first several years of life are crucial for a child’s language development.  Young children learn language best through interaction and engagement with other people. A lot of parents view mobile devices as education tools that keep their children quiet and engaged for long periods of time, allowing a much-needed break after a crazy day.  Most parents dread the daunting task of taking the iPad away, as the know the tantrum that awaits them. Not taking into consideration that this iPad or smart phone has replaced one to one social interaction. These interactions are the building blocks of language development. Children learn how to build these skills from their parents at home. 

Recent studies from the University of Toronto indicate that children under age two who spent time with a smartphone or tablet are more likely to show signs of a speech delay.  Although the research is preliminary, the study indicated that for every half hour of a mobile media use, a child’s risk of language delays is increased by about 50%.  Since we know that language delays are also related to delays in reading and writing, this can have quite serious effects on elementary school children and determine how well they can follow directions, process information and succeed academically in their early years at school. Most importantly the iPad takes time away from interaction with their peers, parents, or siblings. It takes time away from reading books, engaging in pretend play, using their imagination with wooden blocks and plastic toys, and developing gross motor skills.

It may be take several years before scientists reach a more detailed conclusion about how digital technology affect children.  However, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recently updated guidelines discouraging screens (except for video chatting) before 18 months of age and for all children during meals or in bedrooms. These guidelines recommend 

  • One hour per day for children 2 – 5 years of age
  • Parents should monitor and set restrictions for children 6 + years
  • No screen time or digital media should be permitted for children under 18 months of age.

If your child has shown signs of a speech or language delay, it may or not may not be due partially to too much screen time as a toddler.  Regardless, less screen time will be beneficial. There’s always time to do more of what we all used to do as children that will ultimately help with speech and language development:  sing songs, read a book, color a picture, play in the yard, go for a walk, take a ride in the car, go the library, play a board game, cook something in the kitchen together.  Most importantly, while you are engaging in any of these activities, narrate your actions, engage in conversation, and most importantly be present during the interaction with your child. 

Julia Chernova is a licensed speech therapist and owner of Speech Therapy Plus
 5-11 Saddle River Rd, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410