Screen Time and Language

Studies have identified that screen time among younger children is increasing nowadays and the increased screen time may influence the overall development of children. Screen time can be defined as the duration of time that is spent with any screen such as phones, video games, televisions, computers, laptops, and tablets (Ponti et al., 2017).

Does it affect language?

Studies suggest that increased screen use is associated with lower language skills. The first 3 years of life is considered as the most important period for acquiring speech and language skills. Consistent exposure to the speech and language of others is critical for language acquisition during this period. When young children are exposed to screens, it can lead to reduced language exposure eventually causing spoken language disorder. In the American Academy of Pediatrics (2017), a study that followed 900 children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years concluded that toddlers exposed to more handheld screentime are more likely to have expressive language delays.  

Several studies conducted suggested that the number of hours of television watched per day at ages 1 and 3 was linked to attention issues at age 7(Christakis, Zimmerman, DiGiuseppe, & McCarty, 2004), and that watching television before age 3 was linked to declines in reading comprehension, reading recognition, and digit span memory at ages 6 and 7 (Zimmerman & Christakis, 2005).

Is co-viewing good?

A study done in 2020 suggests that co-viewing is positively associated with child language skills. During this time, caregivers may use co-viewing as an opportunity for linguistic interaction, such as labeling content and asking questions. Exposure to caregiver language input, including the quantity and quality of speech, can promote learning for children.

What are the other factors affecting it?

Evidence suggests that children who start using screens at earlier ages have lower language outcomes than those who start later.

Viewing children’s educational programmes is positively associated with language development in kids older than 2 years, according to specific research. Children under the age of two do not appear to benefit in the same ways from watching instructional programming, though. This adds to the growing body of evidence showing that young children learn less efficiently from screen media than they do from live presentations.

How to reduce a child’s exposure to screen media:

  • Create a daily schedule to follow.
  • Establish rules for the use of the TV, the computer, and the phone by the child
  • Remove any gadget from the child’s visual contact
  • Offer rewards when the child follows the daily schedule
  • Create a place in the house with exciting things to use when the child gets bored and wishes to play on the tablet.
  • Give physical activities

Screen time recommendation by age

According to AACAP:

  • 0-18 months, give screen time only for video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town)
  • 18 – 24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
  • 2-5 years, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
  • For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.

Thus, consistent with the pediatric guidelines,

high-quality screen programming should be used in moderation. It should not replace important individual or family activities and health behaviors, such as device-free family interactions, adequate sleep, book reading, and active play

the results of logistic regression analysis of delayed development of language on home environmental factors related to quantity of communication and types of videos more preferred by the delayed group. Among children viewing TV for a short time, significant predictors of delayed development of language were male sex, not reading picture books, and preference for “realistic short animations”. Among children viewing TV for long hours, significant predictors were not reading picture books, preference for “realistic feature-length animation”, and “baby education”

Dynia, J. M., Dore, R. A., Bates, R. A., & Justice, L. M. (2021) Media exposure and language for toddlers from low-income homes. Infant Behavior and Development, 63, , 101542.