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Can Screen Time Cause Speech Delays?

The iBaby generation. Such a fitting name for the child who quickly learns to navigate an iPhone, swipe left to turn the page of a book, or login in to YouTube to sing along with “Let it Go” just one more time. In my childhood, “screen time” meant playing with the original Game Boy and it’s tiny black and white screen, Tamagotchis and their capability to feed a minuscule baby on the go, and the Nokia snake game you played on your mom’s block phone.

Today’s children grow up immersed in digital media, which has both positive and negative effects on development. Some media can be educational such as PBS, Sesame Street, and Doc McStuffins. However, too much handheld screen time can be detrimental to your child’s developing language and speech skills.

According to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, children who use handheld electronic devices at a young age increase their risk of developing a speech delay. The study examined children ages 6 months to 2 years, and found that 30 minutes a day increased the risk of an expressive speech delay by 49 percent. Yikes! So just one episode of their favorite show viewed on the iPad already puts them at risk for slower development. It’s a daunting statistic, but we cannot ignore the fact that screens are EVERYWHERE.

Increased screen time has also been linked to attention problems, short-term memory problems, and reading problems.

How much is too much

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages the use of any screen time in children younger than 18 months.

The AAP further recommends:

  • Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children.

  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs.

  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

Further recommendations can be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

How to make screen time a learning opportunity

  • Teach your child how to use electronic devices as learning tools

  • Interactions could include turn-taking with others (you push the button, now it’s my turn to push the button).

  • Musical apps- Music taps into other areas of our brain, provides good language models, and provides melodic tones of natural speech

  • Learning basic concepts of letters, number, colors, and shapes

  • Watch content with them

Help them understand what they are seeing. Commenting such as, “Wow, look at the silly dog,” or “I see 3 birds,” provides them with language models.

  • Allow them opportunities to label objects or follow directions

For example, “Show me the tractor.” In doing this you are helping them expand their vocabulary, syntax, and comprehension.

How to limit screen time

  • Set a time limit

For 2 year olds and above, set a designated time for 30 minutes allowing them to watch a show or play an educational game.

  • No screens allowed during family time

Aren’t we all guilty of this? But, by not allowing devices to be in view, the option is no longer there. It’s also important to keep screens at bay when interacting with your child. Give them your full attention. They will learn social skills, gestures, and facial expressions when we interact face-to-face.

  • Give your child choices of what they can play with instead

For example, “You can play outside or you can play with your Legos.” Giving some kind of choice allows your child to have power over their environment.

  • Replace electronic games with real games

If your child seems to love when the character on the iPad jumps, set up pillows in the living room floor and have him/her jump over each one. You can model first or race them. Physical movement + verbs + fun = learning!! Get creative!

I know limiting screen time may come as a challenge at first, but keep in mind you are doing your child a huge favor for their current and future development. Setting limits may steer their interest to a whole new world of experiences. Having some "bored time" allows children to use their imagination, which in turn increases pretend play skills. A child's job is to play, so let them be explorers of their environment and not the iPad.


American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children's Media Use. American Academy of Pediatrics. 3 August 2017.


About Lauren Szot

Lauren Szot, M.S., CCC-SLP is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and owner of Tall City Speech, LLC in Midland, TX. She specializes in working with pediatrics with complex communication disorders as well as partnering with the family in a home setting. Lauren has a passion for helping children find their voice.

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