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Is Too Much Screen Time Bad for Speech and Language Development?
This is the 2nd article in the “The Impact of Technology on Child Development” series. If you missed the first article, I covered the hidden dangers of blue light and digital devices to children’s eyes.
My friend’s three-and-a-half-year-old boy was showing signs of delayed speech development. As parents, they did what any concerned parent would do and took him to his pediatrician.
Let me back up and give you details on what they are experiencing.
They have a three and a half year old who is a classic ‘textbook sensory seeker’; he just can’t get enough of anything and is very behind in his speech and social skills.
He manages a tablet and a mobile phone very well as do many of his peers.
Initially, I found it amazing to watch her little fingers wrap around the family iPad or mom’s cell phone, swiping through the icons to get to a particularly entertaining “educational” video or game.
He taps “play” and lets out a squeal of pleasure and sheer delight. After watching the video once or playing the game for a few rounds, go back to the main screen to open another app where you watch an episode of a colorful cartoon. Halfway through, it switches to another game, which consists of animated fruits being shoved into a character’s belly.
When they try to take the iPad, they have a big tantrum that threatens to go nuclear; trembling lips, tears, feet pounding the floor, fisted hands and a session of high-pitched screaming.
He seems to prefer the iPad or smartphone to everything else.
There are times when they are the only things that will keep him quiet.
He has what appear to be symptoms of autism, but the autism specialist he was taken to is reluctant to have him fully evaluated until he is 4 years old. She could already tell that her son doesn’t exactly match autism, and she believes he will be diagnosed correctly if they wait.
Based on his reading, his parents think he may be diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD), which affects one in twenty people in the general population and tends to be hereditary.
The origin of sensory processing disorder is unknown. Preliminary research and studies suggest that SPD is frequently inherited.
No one in any family has SPD, and apart from very few symptoms, does not fit the symptom profile.
Another thought they have is that he has Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS); Symptoms of PPD-NOS include:
• Inappropriate social behavior
• Uneven development of skills (motor, sensory, visual-spatial-organizational, cognitive, social, academic, behavioral)
• Underdeveloped speech and language comprehension skills
• Difficulty with transitions
• Non-verbal and/or verbal communication deficits
• Sensitivities of taste, sight, sound, smell and/or touch increase or decrease
• Perseverative (repetitive or ritualistic) behaviors (ie repeatedly opening and closing doors or turning a light on and off).
He is extremely physically active (especially with his constant physical activity, running and jumping), doesn’t follow directions well, which I attribute to a lack of discipline, but is affectionate with family and relatives and makes good eye contact.
He has a huge appetite and will eat pretty much anything put in front of him, he does well in crowds and generally around others as long as he doesn’t have to have direct interaction as his verbal and social skills , for example, their manners and the like, are underdeveloped. . His fine motor skills are fine, not great. He can’t hold a pencil and grabs a fistful of it like a two-year-old with a crayon.
Their verbal and social skills are underdeveloped.
He understands a lot more than he lets on. He doesn’t imitate sounds or vocabulary much, if at all.
His parents know he has a cognitive delay but it’s hard to tell to what extent because of the type of child he is and his lack of discipline which I don’t think his parents have invested the time to develop .
The only word he uses consistently and appropriately is “octopus,” and he excitedly points to his grandfather whenever possible. He often babbles, which is baby talk consisting of words but not complete conversational sentences. So his vocabulary is limited and seems to be what he hears on video games and YouTube. He doesn’t seem to have the concept of putting a word with a picture other than what he sees in videos or “educational games”.
From everything they’ve read about sensory seekers, extreme speech delay doesn’t seem to be particularly common.
They recently had their son evaluated by an occupational therapist and a speech therapist.
During the assessments, they were asked how much screen time they get each day. They estimate that it takes an average of 45 to 60 minutes a day; from what I’ve observed I think it’s higher and closer to 90 minutes spread throughout the day.
A tablet/iPad/Android or smartphone has replaced a nanny and one-on-one interaction. We all lead busy lives and the few minutes of rest it allows seemed harmless, or so they thought.
The speech pathologist pointed them to data from a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics, “Hand-held screen time linked to speech delays in young children.” The study “suggests that the more time children under 2 spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other handheld screens, the more likely they are to start talking later.”
“According to the study, 20 percent of children under the age of two spend about 30 minutes a day using screens, which increases the risk of speech delay by almost 50 percent.”
This study was completed at the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada by pediatricians who examined screen time and its effects on 900 children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.
The results of the study showed that there is a 49% higher chance of speech delay for every additional 30 minutes spent using a touch screen, be it a tablet, iPad, iPhone or Android device.
Think about it for a few moments:
• 10% of US children under the age of 2 used tablets or smartphones in 2011, the one-year anniversary of the introduction of the iPad.
• In 2013, 40% of children aged 2 and under had access to a tablet or smartphone.
• In 2015, 58% of children under the age of two had used a tablet or mobile phone.
According to a Nielsen study, more than 70 percent of children under the age of 12 use tablets and iPads. A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that:
• 20% of 1-year-olds have a tablet.
• 28% of 2-year-olds could navigate a mobile device without assistance.
• 28% of parents said they use a mobile device to put their children to sleep.
The rate of adoption of tablets, iPads and smartphones by children under the age of 3 has grown more than 5 times in 4 years with the unknown impact on their cognitive development.
There is little scientific data on the consequences of long-term use of tablets, iPads and smartphones; although the studies are ongoing.
Optometrists are seeing a sharp increase in young children with nearsightedness (myopia). The World Health Organization has documented that myopia is growing at an alarming rate worldwide and screen use is a well-accepted contributing factor as a result of the early introduction of wearable devices to children.
Interactive screens such as iPads, tablets and smartphones are known to disrupt sleep. The blue light emitted by super-sharp screens prevents the release of melatonin, an important sleep hormone, which interferes with natural body rhythms, causing sleep disturbances in both adults and children due to their use.
Blue light is harmful because it is the highest energy wavelength of visible light. This energy is also able to penetrate to the back of the eye, through the natural filters of the eyes, and this is the problem. Long-term exposure causes damage to the retina.
Currently, there is extensive and in-depth research on television exposure and children, but little in-depth, long-term research on the impact of interactive screens on smartphones, iPads and Android tablets. Studies are ongoing; however, the jury is still out.
Pediatricians and child development experts agree that while passive screen time in front of a TV, iPad, or tablet for a 30-minute session of video or “educational” games can be entertaining, it won’t provide a rich learning experience or developing fine or gross motor skills. And there are developmental and cognitive risks.
Research has confirmed that having a video or TV in the background negatively affects a child’s development when engaged in play and learning. This is a distraction from the task at hand and decreases your concentration.
Studies have confirmed that hours of background television decrease parent-child interaction, which delays a child’s language development.
This is a big concern: If kids are stuck with screen-based babysitters like tablets, iPads, and smartphones, they aren’t interacting with parents and siblings or the real world.
There are only so many hours in the day, and screen time comes at a high price, taking time away from the best enablers developing fine and gross motor skills, expanding their knowledge and skill sets, building skills social and expand verbal language. capabilities
Children under three need a well-balanced set of activities, ranging from directed play (maths cards/games, coloring pages, puzzles and games, arts and crafts), time to explore nature, manipulate and play with physical toys and socialize with other siblings and peers along with adults.
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued guidelines on screen time. Prior to this update, the AAP had established that the general limit of screen time of no more than two hours per day in front of the television for children older than 2 years.
The revised AAP guidelines recommend:
• One hour a day for children aged 2 to 5 years.
• Parents must monitor and set restrictions for children aged 6 and over.
• Children under 18 months should not be allowed screen time and should not be exposed to any digital media.
o Babies’ brains, eyes and speech are going through a phase of rapid growth and development that makes them the most vulnerable to screens.
Any amount of time that tablets, iPads, or smartphones are used for entertainment purposes is what the AAP defines as screen time.
As parents we must remember that we are the main role models for our children, therefore the habits we have are directly and indirectly instilled in our children.
We need to be very aware of our own behaviors and that means turning off our smartphones, putting down the tablet or iPad along with the TV and laptop and being in the here and now with our children.
Kids can tell when our heads are still on the email we just read on the phone. By ignoring them, this usually makes their behavior worse.
As parents, we need to establish a media-free time each day and spend that time with our 100% attention focused on and relating to our children. Smartphones, iPads, Android tablets or phones are prohibited at the table. This is family time. The same goes for all rooms. Bedrooms are meant for sleeping.
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