The latest research on the effects of too much screen time tells us that excessive screen time adversely impacts communication and language development.
So, how should parents go about finding a good screen time balance for their children? Below are strategies to convince parents how important face-to-face interaction is for their child’s development and health.
(Note: As always, children who use low- and high-tech augmentative and alternative communication devices (AAC) should continue to use them at all times—and in an interactive way.)
- Share screen time guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time prior to 18 months, and limiting screen use to an hour per day for children up through age 5. Recent research found that every additional half hour of screen time over recommended times increased the child’s risk for expressive language delays by 49 percent.
- Teach passive versus active screen time. Passive screen time takes place when a child watches a show alone and isn’t encouraged to respond to the characters in any way. Active screen time includes using a device to make a video call or watching a show—or playing games—with a parent or caregiver who communicates with the child. Active screen time generates some two-way communication, encourages language use, and involves family members and friends.
- Explain how screens become addictive and can reinforce negative behavior. I help parents learn to recognize negative behavior as a form of demanding more and more use of these devices. Handing a screaming or upset child a device as a means of comfort only reinforces this negative behavior and can teach the child to always request via tantrum. I encourage parents to give their child a device or watch a show only when the child is calm—not when they are upset or crying.
- Offer options in lieu of screen time as a distraction. Many parents share that they try to avoid their child melting down in public by handing them a device. The last thing anyone wants is a screaming child in the grocery store. However, I ask them to try books, toys they don’t see often, or even a snack. Keep phone use as a last resort.
- Collaborate on screen time alternatives. For example, a parent says, “I always offer the phone while I feed my child, because otherwise he won’t eat.” The parent and I discuss possible options that might also be effective with practice—reading out loud to the child, listening to music, holding a small toy or plastic spoon.
If parents also limit their own screen time and develop other interests, this puts into effect a purposeful, monitored and informed use of screen time for the entire family.