by Noreen Wiesen
Chances are, youâre doing something else at the same time youâre reading this blog postâat least partially. Divided attention is just part of the programme in todayâs âalways-onâ environment, and being constantly connected usually means spending a lot of time in front of a screen.
Not surprisingly, our kidsâ 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 screenâespecially when that screen serves as a virtual babysitter for the childâit makes sense to expect that thereâs going to be an impact.
One study published inÂ Acta PaediatricaÂ (ChonchaiyaÂ & 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 ChonchaiyaÂ & Pruksananonda study and another study published inPEDIATRICSÂ (Zimmerman, et al., 2009) have shown that when adults guide a childâs screen time and engage the child in two-way conversation about it, the detrimental effect on language development can be neutralized.
Children requireÂ conversationÂ 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 storiesâboth of which are importantâare not enough by themselves to support healthy language development.
Connected vs. Connection
In some cases, it may actually beÂ parentsâÂ screen time thatâs the problem. For a variety of reasonsâincluding job pressures and shifts in cultureâparent 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 parentsâ use of technology and who long for their undivided attention. The overwhelming message from the kids is that âit feels âbad and sadâ to be ignored.â
If kids arenât getting the attention they want from their parents, how likely is it that theyâre getting enough of the conversation that they need to develop important life skillsâincluding language skills?
Language isnât just a tool used to communicate at the dinner table or in the classroom; itâs a living part of who we are, and comes to life and grows in our relationships, our conversations, and in caring forâand being cared forâby others.
As hard as it can be to manage the competing demands of work and familyâor to break the habit of being âalways onââthereâs no substitute for listening, asking questions, and being interested in kidsâ lives.
Chonchaiya, W., & Pruksananonda, C. (2008).Â Television viewing associates with delayed language development.Â ActaÂ Paediatrica, 97(7), 977-982.doi:Â 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2008.00831.x
Steiner-Adair, C. (2013).Â The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. New York, NY: Harper.
Zimmerman, F.J., Gilkerson, J.,Â Richards, J.A., Christakis, D.A., Xu, D., Gray, S., & Yapanel, U. (2009).Â Teaching by Listening: The Importance of Adult-Child Conversations to Language Development.Â Pediatrics,Â 124(1), 342-349.Â doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2267