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Screen Time and Language Development

Is too much screen time hitting the mute button on your toddler’s talking?

Technology permeates every aspect of our lives today and research tells us that children are starting to watching TV from as young as 9 months of age. As a parent you need to know the facts about screen time and the impact it may be having on your child’s language development.

Throughout this article the use of the term ‘screen time’ is used to refer to children watching video content on a phone, tablet, TV or other device.

Key points to remember

  • Screen time is not recommended for children under two years of age.

  • Watching a screen can be very tiring for babies and young children.

  • Limit screen time for preschool children.

  • Choose educational television programs that are designed for kids and engage children in learning.

  • Watch the show with your child to help them learn.

  • Turn off the TV when you are playing and talking with your baby and toddler. This background noise distracts your child and makes it harder for them to listen and learn.

What does the research say?

Saying that ‘screen time’ is bad for your child’s development is too simplistic an argument. Research is showing that older children can learn effectively through the use of technology, but this depends upon how much they watch, who they watch with and what they are watching.

  • Babies and Toddlers do not yet have the attention skills, knowledge or life experience to understand what is happening on the screen and cannot apply this to their own experiences. This is known as the TV deficit.
  • Children who watch general programs (not developed for children) have shown to perform more poorly when assessed on reading, maths, receptive vocabulary and school readiness skills.
  • Children who watch content that is not appropriate for their age have been shown to have increased behaviour and socialisation problems.
  • Children learn best when programs are specifically aimed at them and they watch with an adult who is able to discuss and help them relate what they are seeing and hearing to their own experiences. If children are engaged and involved in the program they will have ‘deeper learning’.
  • Screen time should be limited, as time spent watching the screen takes away from many other important learning opportunities such as sharing stories, talking together, social interactions, physical exercise and imaginative play.
  • Screen time should be used as only one tool out of many to help your child learn. Imaginative, pretend and outdoor play, as well as many opportunities to interact socially, are vital for your child to learn.
  • Anderson, D. R. “Television and Very Young Children.” American Behavioral Scientist 48.5 (2005): 505-22.
  • Hsin, C.-T., Li, M.-C., & Tsai, C.-C. (2014). The Influence of Young Children’s Use of Technology on Their Learning: A Review. Educational Technology & Society, 17 (4), 85–99.
  • Larson, Anne L., and Naomi L. Rahn. “Vocabulary Instruction on Sesame Street : A Content Analysis of the Word on the Street Initiative.” Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch 46.3 (2015): 207.
  • Wright, John C., Aletha C. Huston, Kimberlee C. Murphy, Michelle St. Peters, Marites Pia -On, Ronda Scantlin, and Jennifer Kotler. “The Relations of Early Television Viewing to School Readiness and Vocabulary of Children from Low-Income Families: The Early Window Project.” Child Development 72.5 (2001): 1347-366.
  • Television: babies and toddlers
  • How children see television