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TV Time Out: Does Screen Time Cause Speech Delay?

There’s no shortage of talking animals or cute Disney characters on TV to entertain your toddler. After your child reaches one year of age, they may begin pointing to the TV, trying to find the remote, or attempting to say the name of their favorite show!

Maybe your son or daughter can’t stop dancing when their favorite TV show jingle or theme song begins playing. Or their face lights up from ear to ear when they see their favorite character!

TV can be an educational resource. It’s fun and engaging, not to mention an enjoyable time for your child to learn new words, lessons, and activities.

Are you concerned about how TV time may affect child development milestones? Does screen time affect speech?

Perhaps you’ve been wondering if there’s such a thing as too much screen time. Can too much TV time have a negative impact on speech?

As speech therapy providers, we field these questions from concerned parents regularly. If you’re curious if your household habits should change to ensure great speech for your toddler, read on and learn more!

Can TV be good for toddlers? Does TV help toddlers talk?

For children under the age of 2, the jury is still out on whether or not tv can be good for toddlers. At this stage, an adult will generally still need to explain social situations, and it may be difficult for your child to follow along.

The American Academy of Pediatrics produced a comprehensive summary of research on the impacts of television, videos, and mobile/interactive technologies and their potential for educational benefit as well as health concerns in children under the age of 5. They found limited evidence in benefits with TV for young children.

Earlier research indicated that shows like Sesame Street, geared toward a young audience, can have benefits in children between the ages of 3-5. The benefits include cognitive, literacy, and positive social skills. Interactive TV shows, such as Dora the Explorer or Blues Clues, encourage social interaction with direct feedback. This yields positive interactions where toddlers communicate directly with the TV, according to Media Psychology. While this may be true, there’s more to the story.

A more recent Italian study published in 2020 from Brain Science analyzed the use of digital devices with language skill development in 260 children between 8 and 36 months of age. Researchers found that increased exposure times to digital devices in toddlers 8 and 17 months resulted in lower mimic-gestural skills, a critical step in early childhood communication development. Similarly, those between 18 and 36 months of age were found to have lower language skills with increased digital device exposure time.

This study, and others, have produced startling data for parents to consider and leads to the question: should my child be watching any TV?

More data is still needed, so you’re best to check with your pediatrician on how you can provide the best care for your child.

When it comes to TV having any potential benefits for education, speech, and social skills in children, there’s a general rule of thumb: the older, the better.

Why Is TV bad for toddlers? Is there a certain age where watching TV is good?

TV may not necessarily be bad for toddlers, but it’s important to recognize the age where watching TV shows may have some benefits: with older children. That being said, there are a number of reasons that parents and caregivers should consider limiting TV time.

The Italian researchers from the Brain Science study recommend that for optimal language development, parents and caregivers should limit the use of digital devices.

Many researchers specializing in early childhood development have found that there are a number of negative health consequences associated with TV or digital media usage, including:

  • A small but significant increase in BMI, obesity risk in minority children, and a pattern that leads to unhealthy weight gain later in childhood — food advertising may be one culprit
  • Fewer minutes of sleep per night — just like adults, light emitted from screens can suppress melatonin and lead to poor sleep
  • Overall child development, including cognitive, language, and social/emotional delays

Does screen time affect speech?

Correlation versus causation is a tricky subject, so it’s difficult to determine whether screen time genuinely affects speech in children.

Real, in-person conversations with adults and caregivers are what truly builds strong communication development for children. If your child is missing out on this critical interaction, their learning and communication skills may be significantly stifled. 

TV and the Terrible Twos: how much TV is OK for a 2 year old?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills.”

For a 2 year old child to understand what is going on and receive tangible benefit from educational programming on TV, a parent or caregiver still needs to interact and explain what they’re seeing.

There are also health risks associated with TV consumption. A recent study of 2 year old’s demonstrated that BMI (body mass index) increased with every hour per week of media consumed, according to the Obesity Society.

It’s important to remember that for children around the age of 2, this is a time of critical brain development and human communication is the optimal choice. Encourage older children and adults to engage, play, and talk with your toddler. 

Pediatrics recommends digital media time should be limited to no more than 1 hour per day. When it comes to TV time with your toddler, consider less is more. 

The Best Way to Help Child Language Development

Research indicates having positive, frequent, and direct conversation with them is one of the best ways to help your child develop speech and language skills. This social interaction is critical for early childhood development.

While you may worry about how much TV your toddler watches, this shouldn’t be a major concern. Instead, focus your energy on engaging your child in real conversations, instead of the ones on TV.

When it comes to “interactive” TV shows for your toddler, here’s a few recommendations:

  • Peppa Pig
  • Dora the Explorer
  • Little Einstein
  • Sesame Street
  • Mickey Mouse Club

Does my child have a speech delay? What can I do?

If you feel as though your child may have a speech delay and is not hitting 1 year old speech milestones, you’ll want to bring your concerns up with your pediatrician. The next step in this process is an evaluation by a speech language pathologist — the experts when it comes to recognizing great speech.

If there’s a diagnosed speech delay, the right speech language pathologist will work with you and your toddler to evaluate speech and establish goals with helpful therapy exercises, training, and attention. Contact us today to get started!

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