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We all know that screens, whether they be tablets, laptops, phones or computers, can be fantastic aids if doing work from home, cooking a recipe or just to unwind after a busy day. Kids and adults alike love screen time, and whilst some of this time may be necessary for educational purposes, a lot of the time screen time is used during down time, as a way to relax and sometimes a way to keep kids occupied. But is too much screen time at a young age having an impact on speech and language development?

As screens become more prevalent in daily life, researchers have begun to investigate the impact screens have on daily life, development and sleep. Recent studies have suggested that screen time in the first two years of life may be connected to delays in speech and language development.

One study by Chonchaiya and Pruksananonda found that children who began watching TV before 12 months and who watched more than 2 hours of TV per day were six times more likely to have language delays. Whilst a study by Duch et. Al. found that children who watched more than 2 hours of TV per day had increased odds of low communication scores.

In light of these results, amongst others, the Health Department has made the recommendation that kids under the age of 2 should not have any screen time, as it can:

  • Limit time for active play and learning, and
  • Reduce opportunities for language development, and
  • Reduce the length of time young children can stay focused, and
  • Affect the full range of eye movement.

So what can you do instead? Try some of these ideas as an alternative to screen time:

  • Plenty of time to move, tummy time, crawling, walking and exploring new environments.
  • Relaxing time with books or calming toys
  • Experience new textures with activities such as finger painting and play dough
  • Take a walk, at this age a child’s environment should be stimulating enough, they wont need a screen to enjoy a walk in the pram.

For children aged 2 to 5 years, the Health Department recommends limiting screen time to 1 hour per day, more than this can limit a child’s time for active play and language exposure. Further, this time should be during the day, as screen use during the evening can delay the onset of sleep and result in tired and cranky kids.

Some other alternative screen time ideas to try with 2-5 year olds include:

  • Joining in play, model new ways to play and new language while you play
  • Model big movements to help kids be more active, running and jumping are a great place to start.
  • Show kids how to ride bikes or scooters.
  • Read books to increase language exposure
  • Sing songs and rhymes.

Children love to copy what they see their parents and others around them doing so try modeling the good behaviours you would like to see from them and put down your phone or turn off the TV when you can.

If you have concerns about the amount of time your child spends in front a screen have a chat with your therapist, they can support you with alternative ideas and assist in beginning to reduce your child’s screen time.