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Screen Time Can Affect Language Development and Social Skills

By Maureen Penko, Speech-Language Pathologist

These days, we know that technology is our information driver. There isn't a day that goes by that our children are not exposed to television, computers, iPad, and iPhones.

Too much screen time exposure can affect a child's language development and social skills. CBC recently had a newscast, on this particular topic (March 11, 2017) in which they talked about how "plugged in" we are as a society.

Children when exposed as early as, 18 months or younger are showing later on in life, an increase in anxiety when they are not able to connect to their devices. On Feb 16, 2017 CTV news featured an article in which there was a reference to Nicholas Karadas, author of, 'Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids.' The Canadian Pediatric Society discourages screen based activities for children under two years of age. The issue is that it is very difficult to engage a child in active learning and in social language exchange when parent-child- play time is replaced with time on a screen.

Between the ages of one to three children are in the developmental phase of learning how words sound, putting ideas together, developing imagination, and using their language to communicate. This is done through adult - child, child - child interactions.

Communication is integral to the development of social skills. Children learn through play. They develop social skills such as: greetings, responding, taking turns, answering questions and sharing ideas with others. Play without screens encourages face to face interaction. This allows for verbal and non-verbal communication to develop more fully. Social skills need to be taught and practiced through actual experiences. Random screen time does not accomplish this.

Technology is a valuable tool when used appropriately. Choosing suitable programs and apps is very important. Adults need to select and monitor what the child is listening to or watching for short periods of time - and short is the key word.

Language learning can occur through education shows. Online books from the Public Library is another excellent way to expand their vocabulary and develop their interest in literacy. However, parent child interaction while viewing books is critical. This shared experience is fun and promotes language learning.

To gain a consumer perspective, I interviewed ten families with children ages 12 months to 5 years .Here are the summary to the questions.....

Does Screen time affect children's language and social skills development?

"My child is not talking or engaged with another person when on their device or watching television"

"We think there is an effect on the child's ability to play with others when they are allowed too much screen time. They benefit so much from that rich play experience"

"It is our responsibility as parents to monitor the amount of time, and what they are watching. Children do like repeating what they hear so an educational show can be very beneficial with discussion"

"It should not be a babysitter or an activity. Children's were "bored" after watching a lot of screen time"

"We thought it was educational for our child to play games and watch the children's shows to learn. We were not talking much and neither was he. We were caught as there was a meltdown when we tried to turn off the screen"

How much screen time is appropriate for a child under the age of 5 years?

  • A minimum of 4 hours total in a week to only to 30 mins a day and should be monitored for the 3 to 4 year old.

  • All parents felt that any more than 1 hour a day was too much for a three year old.

  • All parents said that no screen time should be allowed under 18 months of age.

Do you feel there is an addictive aspect to screen time?

  • All parents said yes

My advice is that it is important for all adults to monitor the child's exposure to screen time and to understand the importance of that the face to face interaction in social language development.

Maureen Penko is a registered speech language pathologist and owner of the practice, Penko and Associates. Maureen has extensive experience working in both the hospital and both rural and urban school settings. Assessment and Treatment services for speech and language concerns are listed on our website.

Call today for an appointment - 204-510-7556. You can refer your child.

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