Screen Time and How It Relates to Communication Development

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently updated and revised its guidelines for children and adolescents revealing information on screen time and how it relates to communication development.  For infants and toddlers, age 15 months to 2 years, it is recommended to watch and engage in the technology use alongside your child by repeating what the video says and/or drawing attention to what is on the screen. Screen time should not replace interaction with family and peers, as there is research that suggests language delays correlating with earlier solo viewing of educational videos.

The new guidelines have been modified from “avoid all screens under age of 2” to “avoid solo media use in this age group.” The reason for this is because the act of learning from a screen takes twice as long as it would if that child was learning through direct interaction. The most beneficial learning experience for young children is through imitation. Parents can find out if their child is learning from the information gathered from the screen by asking their child to imitate the various actions they have seen.

Lisa Guernsey (2012), an early education researcher and author, asks parents to consider the “3 C’s”: content, context and the individual child, when thinking about using technology as a learning tool.

1. Content: Is the show/application easy or difficult for your child to understand? As the content becomes more complicated, children often experience difficulty paying attention, focusing and problem solving. Ensure that the shows and applications chosen for your child are curriculum based and appropriate to your child’s current learning level.

2. Context: What is happening around your child while s/he is watching the screen. Are you engaging with your child? By interacting with your child and discussing what your child is seeing and is interested in, you are providing opportunities to relate the information presented to your child’s previous experiences and knowledge making connections between the new information and existing information.

3. The Individual Child: Remember that every child is unique and it is important to consider your child’s age, interests, skills and abilities when choosing media. For preschoolers ages 2 to 5, research demonstrates that the ability to transfer information from screens to the real world is greater, contributing to early literacy and math, as well as positive social-emotional skills and behaviours.

It is suggested that parents choose educational programming/applications that can be used together with their children. By offering opportunities for hands-on exploration and social interaction, parents are able to target the development of their child’s cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. By targeting a child’s developmental milestones, parents are able to work on functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range.

• Cognition involves a child’s ability to think. This includes learning, understanding, problem solving, reasoning and remembering.
• Language has to do with a child’s speech, the use of body language and gestures, communicating, and understanding what those around them are saying.
• Motor can be broken down into two categories: gross motor and fine motor. Gross motor involves the use of large groups of muscles required to sit, stand, walk, run etc., keeping balance, and changing positions. Whereas fine motor involves the child’s ability to use their hands to eat, draw, dress, play, write etc.
• Social-emotional has to do with the child’s interaction with others, maintaining relations with those around them including family, friends, teachers etc., cooperating with those around them, and responding to the feelings of others.

For children that fall within this age group (2-5 years old), it is recommended that screen time is limited to an hour a day. Similar to the guidelines for infants and toddlers, it is critical that parents co-view with their children to help make sense of the information and apply it to the real world.

Here are some tips and suggestions on how parents can manage technology use while placing an emphasis on the importance of communication:

1. Commit to times when everyone is required to disconnect. This could be during dinner or before bed. Be sure to establish rules and make a commitment to honour them.

2. Resist the urge to immediately turn to technology as a source of entertainment and tune into some of the greatest opportunities for conversation and learning.

3. Don’t overestimate the value of such applications. Remember that optimal learning environments involve talking, conversing, and reading. Technology should be used as an avenue to practice such skills while they are under development and used as a form of reinforcement to motivate the learning.

4. Join in and have fun! Turn screen time into a conversation and offer different avenues to learning in terms of acquiring content, processing, constructing, and making sense of ideas. Be mindful of your child’s readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles and develop learning opportunities to achieve maximum growth as a learner.

5. Limit the daily intake of screen time. Use this opportunity to teach your child how to be accountable for their time by prioritizing and being aware of their set time limit.

6. Be consistent! Enforce and maintain the parameters for screen time.

7. Always practice safe listening! Be sure to keep the volume at a safe level to avoid noise-induced hearing loss (do not exceed more than half volume) and to encourage listening breaks.

8. Be the example. Model the technology habits that you want your child to adopt. Remember that a child’s best opportunities for learning is through exploration of the real world and through interaction with others.

Educate yourself about the signs of communication delays/disorders regardless of your child’s technology use. If you have any questions about your child’s speech and language development, please do not hesitate to contact us at Smile Speech Therapy.


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