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With the rise of smart phones, tablets, and wireless internet, screens are a bigger part of our lives than ever before. Many parents are left wondering about how this new factor affects their child’s development – especially when it comes to communicating and connecting with others. As a speech language pathologist, I hear questions about screen time often:

  • Can too much screen time affect my child’s communication?
  • How much screen time is appropriate?
  • How can I help my family reduce screen time? 

In this blog post, I’ve gathered answers and resources about screen time that I hope all families can benefit from!

 

Can too much screen time affect my child’s communication? 

  • The Short Answer: For children 18 months old or younger, screen time is associated with increased risk of speech delays.
  • The Answer for People Who Love Research: One research project shows that for children who are 18 months old, an increase of 30 minutes per day in cell phone media use was associated with a 2.3 times increased risk of speech delay. Another study found that with every additional 30 minutes of screen time, children were at a 49% increased risk of having an expressive speech delay. A third study found that 8 to 16-month-old children spoke an average of six to eight fewer words for each additional hour of video watched per day. 

How much screen time is appropriate?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends the following guidelines: 

  • Birth to 18 months: Avoid all screens. 
  • 18 to 24 months: Choose only high-quality programming and practice “co-viewing” as your child begins to engage with screens. During co-viewing, a parent or caregiver watches the program with the child, asks questions, and encourages engagement and communication. A high-quality program might include characters using teamwork and collaboration; characters asking questions for the viewer; themed episodes on numbers or letters; and programs that allow processing time instead of loud and fast-moving shows.
  • 2 to 5 years: Set a maximum of an hour of screen time per day. Once again, high-quality programming and co-viewing are key. 
  • 6 years and up: The AAP recommends creating a schedule of consistent routines and times. Avoid using screens as a constant distraction, or giving a screen to your child any time they’re uncomfortable or upset. 

How Can I Help My Family Reduce Screen Time?

You don’t have to immediately cut all screen time from your family’s life. Start by tracking how often you and your family use screens, so that you have a starting point. Once you know where you’re at, try out some of the simple tips below: 

  • Choose a time. As a family, you can set “media-free times,” when no TVs, computers, or phones are allowed. By making car rides, meal times, weekday mornings before school, or any time that works well a “media free time,” you’ll have more quality time together as a family. 
  • Choose a space. Designate a media-free room (or two). Some families have chosen the dining room and bedrooms as spaces where no one uses tablets or phones. This helps you limit screen time and creates more time to be present together. 
  • Cut down on your own screen time first. Kids notice everything you do, and you are a model for them. If your child doesn’t see you on a screen, it will make it that much easier to enforce your new media free times and spaces. 
  • Make technology work for you. Apple phones have a built-in screen time feature that can track how much time you spend on your phone. Apps like “Break Free” track your hours per week as well as your child’s phone or tablet usage. Instead of asking your kids to turn off their phone – you can simply shut it off through the app. 
  • Don’t use screens like a fire extinguisher. It’s easy to give a phone to a child when they’re becoming upset, especially when it’s in public and you just need an easy fix. From a therapy perspective, here are a few other ideas to try: give them a really big squeeze/hug, offer a new or favorite snack, sing a favorite song, or bring out a toy or book they haven’t seen in a while.
  • Provide toys and activities that don’t involve screens. For young kids, focus on toys that allow them to play pretend, like doctor, firefighters, kitchen, farmer and more. For older kids, books, graphic novels, and board games are a great start. Getting outdoors, even for a short walk, is a great way to get moving and keep eyes and minds off screens for a while. For even more tips on how to help kids of all abilities stay active, check out this Forward Together blog post.

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ChildServe improves the health and well-being of more than 4,600 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, acquired injuries, and other special healthcare needs.

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