by Noreen Wiesen
Chances are, youre doing something else at the same time youre reading this blog postat least partially. Divided attention is just part of the programme in todays always-on environment, and being constantly connected usually means spending a lot of time in front of a screen.
Not surprisingly, our kids screen time is increasing along with our own. As a result, language delays due to excessive screen time are becoming a cause for concern.
Too Much, Too Young
When children spend a lot of time in front of a screenespecially when that screen serves as a virtual babysitter for the childit makes sense to expect that theres going to be an impact.
One study published in Acta Paediatrica (Chonchaiya & Pruksananonda, 2008) found that children who started watching television before their first birthday, and who watched more than two hours per day, were six times more likely to have language delays than children in a control group.
The Dwindling Art of Two-Way Conversation
What seems to matter even more than the amount of screen time is the degree of adult involvement and interaction with that screen time. Both the Chonchaiya & Pruksananonda study and another study published inPEDIATRICS (Zimmerman, et al., 2009) have shown that when adults guide a childs screen time and engage the child in two-way conversation about it, the detrimental effect on language development can be neutralized.
Children require conversation to develop robust language skills, and they need adults to invite and shape that conversation in ways that help them think about the world and formulate the language that expresses their thoughts. Even reading to children and telling them storiesboth of which are importantare not enough by themselves to support healthy language development.
Connected vs. Connection
In some cases, it may actually be parents screen time thats the problem. For a variety of reasonsincluding job pressures and shifts in cultureparent screen time has started to encroach upon family time, displacing adult-child interaction.
In her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, Catherine Steiner-Adair shares the stories of children and teenagers who are sidelined by their parents use of technology and who long for their undivided attention. The overwhelming message from the kids is that it feels bad and sad to be ignored.
If kids arent getting the attention they want from their parents, how likely is it that theyre getting enough of the conversation that they need to develop important life skillsincluding language skills?
Language isnt just a tool used to communicate at the dinner table or in the classroom; its a living part of who we are, and comes to life and grows in our relationships, our conversations, and in caring forand being cared forby others.
As hard as it can be to manage the competing demands of work and familyor to break the habit of being always ontheres no substitute for listening, asking questions, and being interested in kids lives.
Chonchaiya, W., & Pruksananonda, C. (2008). Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Acta Paediatrica, 97(7), 977-982.doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2008.00831.x
Steiner-Adair, C. (2013). The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. New York, NY: Harper.
Zimmerman, F.J., Gilkerson, J., Richards, J.A., Christakis, D.A., Xu, D., Gray, S., & Yapanel, U. (2009). Teaching by Listening: The Importance of Adult-Child Conversations to Language Development. Pediatrics, 124(1), 342-349. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2267