Many parents see mobile devices like phones and tablets as engaging tools to help their children learn, play or just tolerate each other during a car ride.
As a result, children, and even babies are spending more and more time in front of a screen. Despite the short-term benefits, excessive screen time may carry hidden costs that hurt your child in the long run.
Michele Young, a speech pathologist with AdventHealth for Children's Pediatric Rehabilitation program, says that kids learn to communicate by watching, listening and interacting.
"They learn when they're face-to-face with someone, repeating their sounds and expressions and playing 'peek-a-boo,'" she says.
Moreover, kids can even learn by just watching and picking up on signals from others' tone of voice, eye contact and speaking habits.
However, even the most educational app or YouTube video reduces these complexities of conversation into two dimensions, Young says. They simply can't provide the level of input - especially the crucial exploration touch can provide - a child needs to learn.
Research continues to raise red flags about the harmful effects of screen over-use.
A 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics found that television and video games were associated with problems with attention later in childhood. These problems even persisted into young adulthood, suggesting that too much time in front of a screen may impair our conversational skills in the long term.
In 2017, research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting described how children ages 6 months to 2 years who use handheld screens are at higher risk for speech delays.
Their astonishing conclusion: For each 30-minute increase in screen time, young children had a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay.
"Screen time 'overuses' the senses of sight and sound and completely ignores touch, a young child's primary means of early learning," Young says.
By contrast, "brain development flourishes when the senses are engaged," she says. "Even those too young to participate in the conversation learn from observing it.
How much is too much?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed science-based recommendations to guide parents in the appropriate use of digital devices. Here's what they say:
- Birth to 18 months: Avoid screen media other than video chats.
- 18 to 24 months: Parents of children at this age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
- 2 to 5 years: Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs and watch with your kids.
- 6 and older: Place consistent limits on time spent with media, and its different types. Ensure screens do not replace adequate sleep, physical activity and other healthy behavior.
Furthermore, Young says both quality and quantity of viewing matters. Choosing high-quality programs and watching with your children can be even more important than how much time young children spend in front of screens.
Back to being a kid
AdventHealth's pediatric rehabilitation program helps kids with all sorts of problems get back to what matters: Just being a kid.