Don't Let Tech Replace Talk

posted by Laura Johnson & Heidi Farquhar on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Screen time for children impairs language development

Picture this scenario:  Mom or Dad is sitting with a restless child in a waiting room, getting some glances of empathy along with a few glares of impatience. To occupy the child, a tablet or smart phone is handed over and rapidly, the once fidgety child is absorbed, playing a game or watching a video. Everyone is happy…or are they?

You’ve likely seen this scenario unfold and chances are that as a parent, you too have use this technique. While technology offers so many advantages and there are benefits to children learning how to navigate computer basics, there are also disadvantages. Remember the importance of balance, and as speech and language pathologists, we’d like to emphasize the importance of talking with your children.

In today’s world, technology is growing rapidly as is our exposure to it from a very young age. Many of our own children know how to run our smartphones and iPads more efficiently then we adults do.  An article from Time Magazine, written by Alice Park in 2017, indicates that growing evidence suggests that screen time may have some negative consequences for young children’s development and a huge impact on their overall expressive language development.

In a new study, of nearly 900 children between six months and two years old, researchers found that those who spent more time using handheld devices were more likely to have delays in expressive speech, compared to children who didn’t use the devices as much. For every 30 minutes of screen time, there was a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay. The research, which was led by pediatricians at the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, was presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

Another of the latest studies also suggest children aren’t always able to understand the connection between the two-dimensional world on the screen and the three-dimensional world around them. Although you may see or hear your child mimic what they are seeing on the screen, it does not mean that they can transfer that to the real world.

As speech-language therapists, words are our business. It is important to talk to our kids, and it is even more critical to talk with them and provide that back-and-forth conversational communication exchange. This is something that technology cannot give our children. Passively watching screens do not bring the same sort of interactions as real conversation does. It is only a one-way street, and communication is a two-way street of give and take. When we sit down and engage with our children face-to-face we help make their brains stronger, leading to higher cognitive function and improved social skills.

It's important to create unplugged spaces and time so your family can create boundaries for screen time.  Making space for live, face-to-face interactions with your children might not be easy, but just as it can be a struggle to get your kids to eat healthy foods for their development, it’s important to reduce screen time and have conversations for the development of their brains and communication skills.  Simple activities such as reading simple stories, sitting on the floor and playing with toys or going for a walk and talking about what you see, are great examples of ways to help enrich your child’s world and communication. All these can be accomplished while you are bonding with your child and building a stronger relationship. So put down those screens and get to enjoying watching your child’s language flourish!

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s speech and language development, please contact your doctor who can refer your child for a speech and language evaluation with one of us.  

About The Author

Laura Johnson & Heidi Farquhar

Laura Johnson is a Speech and Language Pathologist at the Spencer Hospital. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders and Sciences and a Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology from the University of Northern Iowa. Laura works with adults and children with speec ... read more