Are screens evil for your child? Should your child avoid screens? Why is screen time harmful to children’s language development? Can screen time be useful for language development? There is quite some research about screens’ effects on children’s language development. Let’s be real and analyze this issue from different perspectives. Here, I am giving you 5 easy and fun tips to use screen time to improve language. Plus, you will get a free guide to track your child’s language development between ages 0 and 6!

How to use screen time to improve language skills of my child

Does screen time cause language delay in children?

Why is the screen time bad for my child’s language development?

Can my child learn a language by watching TV?

Can I improve my child’s language skills via television, smartphone, and tablets? i

How can I make use of screen time for language development?

Many parents are looking for answers to these questions. No matter what the experts say, let’s face reality. Children grow up with phones, tablets, computers, and television, sometimes from the moment they are born.

Even if some children do not have their own screen time until a certain age, their parents certainly do! If you are reading this, you do too 🙂

How does screen time affect language development?

 

Any moment that a child is exposed to a screen via television, cell phone, tablets, or computer counts as screen time. Screen time can affect children’s brain and language development, sleep, and even emotional, and social skills.

Let’s see what research says about the effects of screen time on language development a little bit more in-depth.

I promise, it will be fun. 

One study showed that children under age one who had 2 or more hours of screen time had six times more risk of language delay compared to their peers. It is pretty sad, isn’t it?

In Canada, they investigated 894 children regarding their screen time and language skills. They noticed that about 20% of these children already had half an hour of screen time on average before they were 18 months old! When they checked their language development, there was a 49% increased risk of speech delay for each extra 30 minutes of daily screen time. 

Another study investigated 119 babies’ and toddlers’ screen use habits and checked their language development after one year. They saw that these children were exposed to screens for three and a half hours on average! Moreover, children who had more screen time had lower language skills. 

So far, you get the idea. But I want to mention one more study to make it a bit more concrete.

In this last study, they looked at the connection of screen time and vocabulary size of children under age 2. They found that each extra hour in front of a screen meant six to eight fewer words in those children’s vocabularies. It may not sound too much at first. But, if you think about the speed of language acquisition around this time, you can imagine how many words a child is missing after a period of screen time.

 

Toddler playing with a tablet

Image by Kelly Sikkema

Why does screen time affect language development negatively?

 

If your child has a language delay or disorder, the only reason does not have to be screen time. Many children are exposed to screen, yet they develop typical language skills. And some children with language delay, do not have screen time at all.

But one thing certain is, if your child’s language skills are not on track, more screen time will not help your child to improve.

Why does using television, tablets, cell phone, and all kinds of screen time affect language development negatively then? There are a few reasons.

 

Your child remains passive during screen time

Watching the screen is a very passive activity. Children acquire language through interaction, not only through sitting and watching people. Yes, children may improve comprehension skills when they hear and listen to the people around them. But it is not the same as watching TV.

Adults talk about things in a context. Moreover, they directly communicate with the child all the time. In this way, a child listens and learns through an adult’s interactions, even if the child does not speak yet.

Children acquire/learn their second language through immersion and interaction too. Watching TV can help them to get to know the sounds and words of a language.

But for children need real-life interaction to learn languages and improve communication skills.

 

Each minute in front of a screen means fewer interaction opportunities

I already mentioned that your child remains mostly passive in front of a screen. It is not the only negative side of screen time. Your child’s time in front of the screen steals any interaction opportunity you can have with her.

Imagine all the things you can do together with your child. But instead, your child is looking at the screen full of colors and sounds.

 

Screen time makes it hard for your child to focus on the important things

It is very understandable that as a parent, you may become tired of doing things with your kiddo. But still, a couple of things to keep in mind:

The screen has a lot of stimuli; colors, sounds, and exciting things happening all the time. It can make it hard for your child to adapt to different rewards that are ”less” attractive. They showed that computer games can make people crave screens by affecting their dopamine function.

Your child’s screen time is one thing, and yours is another. Your screen time will also affect your child’s interaction opportunities. Why though?

Babies and toddlers do not have a long focused attention span, which means that they easily get distracted when there is extra noise in the environment. 

So it is hard for your little ones to hear and understand what you say while the TV is on behind you.

child is watching TV in the dark. Screen time for toddlers and children

Image by Ludovic Toinel

My child loves screen time. What can I do?

 

For some children, screen time can be the only way to calm down. And some other children may be looking at a screen only when they are bored.

It means that you will have to use different methods for your child to avoid excessive screen time.

World Health Organization‘s guidelines recommend that children younger than 4 years old should not sit still for more than 1 hour at a time. Activating your child is one of the most important things to avoid screen time.

Also, it can be hard to cut out screen time altogether at once. Do it slowly and surely.

 

For toddlers who love looking at the screen:

  • Toddlers have a shorter attention span and they live in the moment. They tend to forget things easily, including their need to watch something. Try to attract your toddler’s attention with something and help her engage in some different activities that do not include a screen. 
  • When you are at a restaurant, waiting in a waiting room, or on the public transport with your toddler, talk about what is happening around you, make comments, ask questions and make stories up. Words are everywhere! Be creative.
  • Carrying a tablet or cell phone with you is easy. Do you take your toddler’s favorite books or toys with you? So instead of occupying your child with a screen, give her something else. I understand that children who are used to screens may have a hard time regulating themselves with other simple things. So it can be hard in the beginning. But slowly and surely your toddler will love looking at a book or playing with her favorite toy.

 

If your child is older and addicted to screen:

  • Share your worries and what a lot of screen time does to children’s brains if your child is old enough to understand this. Why not?
  • Limit screen time between certain hours. Decrease this time until you reach the target.
  • Find out what else your child might like inside and outside of the home. What kind of hobbies can he have?
  • Do more things together. Eat, talk, walk, create stories, do activities. Encourage your child to spend time with family and friends in real life as much as possible. 

 

I know, there are many things to say ‘’But my child is…. ‘’ ‘’But my family is….’’ in this case, that can make it hard to limit the screen time of your child. But it is worth a try.

Is my child's language development on track?

HOW TO USE SCREEN TIME TO IMPROVE MY CHILD’S LANGUAGE SKILLS?

Is television a monster? Are screens always that bad for my child? Is it even possible to avoid screens at this time? Can’t I use the screen time for something useful? Yes, you can! Screen time can help teach your child many things, such as new words, concepts, storytelling skills, and more.

Just a word of caution here. It still does not mean that to use screens for children younger than two years old.

American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that children have zero screen time before age two and only limited screen time between ages 2 and 5. Limited screen time here means no more than one hour a day. 

But how can you make the best out of the limited screen time with your child and make your child learn a lot of new language skills?

Before dive into all the fun ways to do it, I want to mention two rules.

The first rule is: Whatever your child is watching on the screen should be age-appropriate. Studies have shown that programs that involve educational goals can improve children’s language and reading-writing skills.

The second rule is: Keep your child as active and engaged as possible. Language acquisition and development occur through interaction. And some studies show that children can use the screen time for their benefit when they are interacting with an adult at the same time.

How can you interact with your child to improve your child’s first or second language skills via screen time?

Let’s see:

Little child playing with the computer

Image by: Annie Spratt

 

 

1. Talk about what is happening and ask some questions

What is going on on the screen? Talk about it. Repeat the keywords many times and talk clearly, at a level that your child can understand.

Ask questions about the events and characters. Your child does not have to know the answers, it is not a test. But give your child some time to understand and think about your question. The aim here is to keep your child active. 

  • For small children, it can be easier to talk about what there is and what goes on.

What happened? What is it? What is happening? Whose that? What color is that car? Is this dog feeling sad?

  • For older children, talk about the goals, feelings, and thoughts of the characters. Don’t forget cause-effect relationships too.

Why did that man do this? Why is the child happy? What made the dog scared?

 

2. Summarize the main idea in your way.

If you are watching a cartoon, summarize what happened there in your way.

‘’Why do you think the child was sad?’’

‘’Because he loved biking and went everywhere with his bike. But his friend broke the bike. And the child had to walk now.’

Your child’s language skills should determine how complex your sentences are. Be at your child’s level and a bit higher! Repeat the keywords and make short sentences if necessary.

If your child can handle more complex language, try to add new words and make your sentences longer.

 

 

3. Think out loud

Think out loud about what your child and even the characters on the screen might be thinking. Why are they doing something in a certain way and not the other? What are their motivations? 

In this way, you can help your child to understand the intentions, emotions, and thoughts of others.

 

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4. Give real-life examples

Give real-life examples and use the keywords in different sentences.

‘’Look! The little girl is eating a strawberry. I love strawberry too!’’

‘’The bear is so big! It is as big as your teddy bear.’’

‘’The kid was so sad because he couldn’t play with his friend. Just like you were sad when your friend left here last time.’’

 

5.Use what happened on the screen in your games and routines

You can replay some of the things you saw on the screen in real life.

For instance, if you watched something about cars, you can repeat a similar story when you play with your child’s cars.

You can also replay anything related to your routines. If you watched a scene where people were eating, you can talk about that scene during mealtime with your child.

 

To summarize

‘’How can my child learn new things and improve language skills during screen time?” ”Can television, tablets, cell phones, and computer games be helpful for my child?”

Yes!

  • Talk about what happens on the screen, ask questions, make comments.
  • Summarize the main idea and theme in your own words.
  • Think out loud about the characters’ motivations, goals, emotions, and thoughts.
  • Give real-life examples.
  • Repeat what you watched on the screen in your games and routines.

Do all these at a level that your child can understand but also learn new things!

 

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