July 1, 2017 Staff

Is Too Much Screen Time Bad for Speech and Language Development?

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This is the 2nd article in the series “The Impact of Technology on Childhood Development.” If you missed the 1st article covered the Hidden Hazards of Blue Light and Digital Devices on Kids Eyes.

My friends 3 and a half year old was showing signs of delayed speech development. As parents, they did what any concerned parent would do and took him to their pediatrician.

Let me back up and give you details on what they’re experiencing.

They have a 3 and a half-year-old little boy who is a classic ‘textbook sensory seeker’; he simply can’t get enough, of anything and is extremely delayed in his speech abilities and social skills.

He manages a tablet and cell phone extremely well as many of his peers do.

He wraps his little fingers around the family iPad or his mother’s cell phone, swiping through icons to get to a particularly entertaining video or “educational” game.

He taps “play” and emits a squeal of pleasure and sheer delight. After watching the video once or playing the game a few rounds, . Halfway through, he moves onto another game, which involves animated fruits making their way into a character’s belly.

When they try to take away the iPad, they suffer through one heck of a tantrum that threatens to go nuclear; trembling lip, tears, feet kicking the floor, hands balled into fists and a high-pitched screaming session.

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He seems to prefer the iPad or smartphone to everything else.

Sometimes it’s the only things that will keep him quiet.

He has what on the surface appear to be symptoms of autism, but the autism specialist they took him to is reluctant to get him fully Hthey wait.

Based on their reading, his parents Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which impacts one in twenty people in the general population and tends to be heredity.

The origin of Sensory Processing Disorder is unknown

No one in either family has SPD, and other than very few symptoms, he does not fit the symptomatic profile. The symptoms of SPD can be found here at SPDlife

Another thought they have is that he has Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS); PPD-NOS symptoms include:

  • Inappropriate social behavior
  • Uneven skill development (motor, sensory, visual-spatial-organizational, cognitive, social, academic, behavioral)
  • Speech and language comprehension skills that are poorly developed
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Nonverbal and/or verbal communication deficits
  • Taste, sight, sound, smell and/or touch sensitivities are increased or decreased
  • Perseverative (repetitive or ritualistic) behaviors (i.e., opening and closing doors repeatedly or switching a light on and off).

He is extremely physically active (especially with his constant physical activity, running and jumping), he doesn’t follow directions well, which I attribute to lack of discipline, but he is affectionate with his family and relatives and makes good eye contact.

He has a great appetite and eats pretty much anything put in front of him, does well in crowds and generally around others as long as he does not have to have a direct interaction since his verbal skills and social skills, e.g. manners and similar are underdeveloped. His fine motor skills are okay, not great. He cannot hold a pencil and fists one like a two-year-old with a crayon.

His verbal skills and social skills are underdeveloped.

He understands far more than he sometimes lets on. He does not imitate sounds or vocabulary much, if at all.

His parents and his lack of discipline that in my opinion, his parents have not invested the time in developing.

The only word that he uses consistently and appropriately is “pop,” and he excitedly points to his grandfather whenever possible. He frequently babbles, which is baby talk that consists of words but not complete conversational sentences. Thus, his vocabulary is limited and appears to be what he hears on video games and YouTube. He does not seem to have the concept of putting a word with an image other than what he sees in videos or ‘educational games.’

From all they have read about sensory seekers, extreme speech delay does not seem to be especially prevalent.

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They recently had their son evaluated by an occupational therapist and a speech therapist.

Over the course of the evaluations, they were asked how much screen time he has each day. They figure that he averages 45 to 60 minutes per day; from what I’ve observed I believe it higher and closer to 90 minutes spread throughout the day.

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A tablet / iPad / Android or smartphone has replaced a babysitter and one on one interaction. We all lead busy lives and the few minute of a break it allows appeared to be harmless, or so they thought.

The speech therapist pointed out to them the data from a recent Journal of Pediatrics study “Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children.” suggests the more time children under 2 years old spend playing with smartphones, tablets, and other handheld screens, the more likely they are to begin talking later.”

“According to the study, 20 percent of kids under the age of two spend about 30 minutes a day using screens, leading to an almost 50 percent increased risk of speech delay.”

This study was completed at the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada by pediatricians who examined.

The results of the study demonstrated that there is a 49% increased chance of delayed speech for every extra 30 minutes spent using a touchscreen, be it a tablet, iPad, iPhone or Android device.

Think about this 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.
  • By 2013, 40% of kids 2 and under had access to a tablet or smartphone.
  • By 2015, 58% of children under age two had used a tablet or mobile phone.

According to a Nielsen Study, more than 70 percent of children under 12 use tablets and iPads. A recent Journal of Pediatrics study showed that:

  • 20% of 1-year-olds own 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 kids to sleep.

The rate of adoption of tablets, iPads, and smartphones by kids under the age of 3 has grown more than 5x in 4 years with and 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 studies are underway.

Optometrists are seeing a sharp increase in young children with myopia (short-sightedness). The World Health Organization has documented that nearsightedness is growing at an alarming rate worldwide and screen use is a well-accepted contributing factor resulting from the early introduction of handheld devices to kids.

Interactive screens such as iPads, tablets, and smartphones are known to disrupt sleep. The blue light emitted by the super-sharp displays prevents the release of melatonin, an important sleep hormone, which interferes with the natural bodily rhythms, leading to sleep disturbances in both adults and children from their use.

Blue light is damaging because it’s the highest energy wavelength of visible light. This energy is also able to penetrate all the way to the back of the eye, through the eyes’ natural filters, and that’s the issue. Long-term exposure causes damage to the retina.

Presently, there is broad, in-depth research about television exposure and kids, but little in-depth, long-term research on the impact of interactive screens from smartphones, iPads and Android tablets. Studies are presently underway; however, the jury is still out.

Pediatricians and child development experts agree that while passive screen time in front of a TV or an iPad or tablet for a 30-minute session of videos games or ‘educational’ games might be entertaining, it is not going to provide a rich learning experience or develop fine or gross motor skills. And there are developmental and cognitive risks.

Research has confirmed that having a video or TV running in the background negatively affects their development when a child is engaged in play and learning. This is a distraction from the task at hand and lowers their concentration.

This is a big concern: if kids are left with screen-based babysitters such as tablets, iPads, and smartphones, they are not interacting with parents and siblings or the real world.

There are only so many hours in a day, and the time spent on screens comes at a high price, taking time away from better activates that develop fine and gross motor skills, expand their knowledge and skill sets, build social skills and expand verbal language abilities.

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Kids under the age of three need a well-balanced group of activities, ranging from instructed play (math worksheets/games, coloring pages, puzzles and games, arts, and crafts), time to explore nature, handling and playing with physical toys and socializing with other siblings and peers along with adults.

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued guidelines on screen time were issued. Prior to this update, AAP had established that the general screen time limit of a maximum of no two hours a day in front of the TV for kids over age 2.

The revised AAP guidelines recommend:

  • One hour per day for children 2 to 5 years of age.
  • Parents should monitor and set restrictions for children 6 years old and older.
  • Under age18 months there should be no screen time allowed and they should not be exposed to any digital media.
    • Baby’s brains, eye and speech are undergoing a rapid growth phase and development that makes them the most vulnerable to screens.

Any duration of time spent using tablets, iPads or smart phones for entertainment purposes is what the AAP defines as screen time.

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As parents we need to remember that we are our children’s main role models, therefore the habits we have we directly and indirectly instill into our children.

We need to be very conscious of our own behaviors and this means turning off our smart phones, putting down the tablet or iPad along with the TV and laptop and being in the here and now with our kids.

Kids can tell when our heads are still on the email we just read on our phone. By not paying attention to them, this usually makes their behavior worse.

As parents we need to establish a media free time every day and spend this time with our attention 100% focused on our kids and engage with them. Smart phones, iPads, Android tablets or phones are off limits at the dinner table. This is family time. The same holds true for all bedrooms. Bedrooms are meant for sleeping.