May 18, 2021-- Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) continues with an exploration of early intervention, language development, and the impact of technology on language development.
Early Intervention is a state offered service provided to children ages 0-3 years of age. As more research on language development in infants and toddlers comes out, many believe an outdated approach of "wait and see" should not be used when talking about language development. If you have concerns about your child’s speech, language, hearing, or feeding/swallowing, instead of waiting to see if your child grows out of what concerns you, seek help early for communication and/or feeding difficulties.
What does your baby need to grow their brain and develop spoken language?
Lots of talking. The more words your baby hears, the better!
A tuned-in communication partner. When your baby cries, coos, smiles, and laughs; they are trying to tell you something.
Your full attention. So much learning happens when you notice your baby’s interests and respond (“Oh, you see that ball? It’s bouncing.”)
The use of screens—both by you and by your baby—can interrupt your baby’s healthy development. But today’s parents need devices for many purposes. Here’s why screen-free time is important:
Studies have shown that parents speak fewer words when using smartphones. Find time to put screens away so you can talk about your activities. You will teach your baby so many words!
Looking down at your device makes it harder to notice your baby’s smiles and sounds, leading to missed opportunities to bond and communicate. Babies want to see your face!
The use of screens by babies can delay their speech and language development. They may not be talking yet, but they are learning words by interacting with you.
When babies use screens, it can be harder for them to learn how to soothe themselves. Giving your fussy baby your phone may help in the moment, but not in the long run.
Studies have shown that children under 2 learn less from a video than when learning from another person, and it appears that although children will watch the TV screen by 6 months, understanding the content does not generally occur until after age 2. It’s not that they won’t be captivated by what’s on the screen, but they’re not learning from it.
- Language development expands rapidly between 1½ to 3 years of age. Studies have shown that children learn language best when engaging and interacting with adults talking and playing with them.
What Does Too Much Screen Time Do to Children’s Brains?
- Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests. Some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
- Children who spend most of their time engaging with an iPad, smartphone, or the television, all of which are highly entertaining, can find it more difficult to engage in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys to foster imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills.
- Young children learn by exploring their environment, watching the adults in their lives, and then imitating them. Excessive screen time may inhibit a child’s ability to observe and experience the typical everyday activities they need to engage with to learn about the world, leading to a kind of “tunnel vision,” which can be detrimental to overall development.
- There is some evidence that children who watch a lot of television during the early elementary school years perform less well on reading tests and may show deficits in attention.
Research shows that talking with children in a reciprocal dialogue is extremely important for language development and social interaction. It’s that back-and-forth “conversation,” sharing facial expressions and reacting to the other person — in real life, rather than “passive” listening or one-way interaction with a screen — that improves language and communication skills in young children.
How might screens impact a child’s sleep?
- As humans, our circadian rhythms and our melatonin production — the sleep hormone — kicks in when the sunsets. But the blue light from screens inhibits melatonin, which can delay sleep. Watching TV or playing games also keeps our brains and bodies more alert and activated and less ready for sleep. Tablets and smartphones will suppress the melatonin more than TVs because the screen and that blue light is closer to the face.
- For preteens and teenagers, excessive use of screens late at night will affect their sleep, and keeping screens out of the bedroom is advised. Too much time spent on social media and lack of sleep can affect behavior and cognitive performance in school and interfere with learning. It has also been shown that excessive screen time and sleep deprivation are linked to obesity, which in turn can affect self-esteem and lead to social isolation and more screen time.