Social media has been a-buzz after a research study claimed that screen time causes speech delays.
The author of the study, explains that definitive research and longitudinal studies are still needed. But, the initial claim is causing panic amongst parents.
In the past, television exposure for young children caused similar hysteria. However, TV can be used to stimulate speech and language development. I discussed this in a post over here.
There are inherent differences between tablet technology and TV
- Firstly, tablets are portable, and they can be used anytime, anywhere. Tablet use is not restricted to a time or place where the child can sit in front of the screen. Consequently, parents are using tablets as baby-sitters and pacifiers wherever they go. It is not uncommon to see young children in strollers with tablets or smart-phones in their hands whilst parents shop oblivious to their child’s presence.
- Secondly, the abundance of apps that can be used on a tablet has lulled parents into a false sense of belief that it is ‘educational.’ My research (unpublished) on speech pathologists use of apps for intervention, highlighted that “just because it says it is educational, doesn’t make it educational.”
- The ubiquitous nature of hand-held devices and tablets means that children are continuously exposed to screens in their environment. The model that children are seeing is reduced communication and increased screen time. In fact the same CNN article depicts an interview which highlights how dependent people are on their cell phones. We know, that children learn from modelling. If this is the model, that children are exposed to, it is unsurprising that removal of screen time, results in ‘scream-time’ and speech and language delays.
- The interactive nature of touch-screen technology is motivating and engaging for children. Additionally, there is immediate gratification from swiping, tapping and touching in order to get a response. Whilst motivation, engagement, and reward are important aspects of learning, this does not necessarily translate into actual learning. (The impact of immediate gratification is a topic for another post.)
Do screens really cause speech and language delays?
My answer is an unequivocal NO!
The recent AAP screen-time guidelines for children (October, 2016) take into account multimedia use in constructive and collaborative ways. What is evident from these findings, is that central to the use of technology is the mediation of communication. As a speech-language therapist, I feel that it is important to share our knowledge and understanding of language and communication to educate others on using digital media. Screen time can cause speech delays if educators and parents do not incorporate ALL aspects of communication when using this technology. This includes, turn-taking, eye contact, social interaction and sharing.
It is important to consider that tablets and TV are 2-dimensional. In younger children, and children who are at risk for language learning, there are inherent difficulties when transferring learning from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional objects. Therefore, in order to facilitate learning, it is necessary for parents to bridge children’s understanding when using screens for learning.
It is not the screens that is causing the delay, but the manner in which we are using the screens.
It is sad, that despite our increasing knowledge and understanding of so many things, we are resorting to a mindset of the poor worker who blames his tools.
What are your thoughts?