Screen time refers to any time that your child spends with a screen in front of his face (one that’s turned on, anyway).  That includes a television, movie theater screen, smart phone, tablet, computer, hand-held video game device, DVD player in the car, or anything else with a screen and moving pictures.  It doesn’t matter if your child is watching an educational video or playing a game, screen time is screen time.

Children learn to talk and communicate through interactions with other people.  That’s the way it has always been and that’s the way it will continue to be, despite any new technology that comes our way.  The first several years of life are crucial for your child’s language development.  It is when their brain is the most receptive to learning new language and is building communication pathways that will be with them for the rest of their lives.Thus its more difficult for someone to learn and develop language skills.  That’s why it’s harder for you to learn a foreign language as an adult and those rare children who were raised by wolves in the woods have a hard time learning to communicate efficiently.

Every minute that your child spends in front of a screen is one fewer minute that he could spend learning from your interactions with him or practicing his interactions with you.  Screen time takes away from time that could (and should) be spent on person-to-person interactions.

Vocabulary and reading are important parts of communication, but they are a very small part of a much bigger picture.  Communication is about interacting with others, the give and take.

The speaker responds to the listener’s body language and responses to change and adapt what they are saying.  The listener uses non-verbal cues to gain deeper meaning from the speaker’s message.  There is so much more going on than the list of vocabulary words that the lady in the video is teaching.  Videos do not replace person-to-person interactions for teaching language or communication.

Increased screen time has also been linked to attention problems, short-term memory problems, and reading problems.  All of which can play into your child’s ability to learn language as well.

Some children do completely fine with tons of screen time.  Some children learn to count, name things, or even read from screens!  However, your child is having trouble with communication so he needs every opportunity possible to hear words spoken to him (by a real person, not a screen) and to practice using sounds and words himself.

How to reduce screen time:

Start by setting some rules about the screens.  If your child is old enough to understand, talk about why you are limiting screen time and share with him some of the research about what it can do to a young brain.

You could also set parameters on what types of screens or uses your child is allowed to watch, such as what shows or what devices.

Start off by only limiting your child’s screen time slightly.  Then, gradually increase the limits until you have reached the desired amount of screen time.  Also, make sure you replace the times that your child normally would have been using a screen with one of the alternatives below.

What can I do with my child instead of screen time?

Try some alternatives to screen time that are way better for your child’s development and will help you build a better relationship with your child as well.  Keep in mind it’s important for you to put away your screens when you interact with your child as well. Talk with your child.

  • Read a book
  • Play with your child’s favorite toy
  • Color a picture
  • Make a craft project
  • Play in the yard
  • Go for a walk
  • Take your child to a park
  • Go for a car ride and talk about what you see
  • Go to the library and look for books on a topic that interests your child
  • Play a board game
  • Teach your child a new skill
  • Teach or practice a sport in the back yard
  • Ride bikes
  • Go somewhere with an indoor play-place
  • Call up some friends and have a play date
  • Cook something in the kitchen together
  • Plant seeds or plants in a garden
  • Do a family service project together, like helping an elderly neighbor with house work