When I go out anymore, it’s not uncommon to see babies as young as 18 months old being entertained on some kind of electronic device. I get it, you want to have a meal without interruption, or go shopping without your child throwing a fit in the store (ask me how I know about that). No wonder parents resort to handing over their devices in order to get a little break, right? I mean, what’s the harm with little kids learning how to swipe and tap? Everyone says “fine motor” development is important.
Well, the reality is that a child’s brain develops the most in the first three years of life. Real life experiences and actual conversations are far more important to a child’s overall development than learning how to swipe a screen or tap on a picture. Children develop language and emotional and social skills in a rich environment of interacting with real people and real things. Young children are like sponges, taking in everything around them with all of their senses.
A recent study of close to 900 children revealed that young children who spent more time on screens experienced a variety of speech delays and language deficits. When screen-time replaces in-person interactions, children aren’t growing in receptive language (understanding the language spoken by you) and expressive language (being able to communicate using language).
As a classroom teacher, I have seen first hand how the lack of language development in the early years can affect the ability of school aged children to follow directions and understand social situations with peers. Language development is strongly associated with the quality and quantity of parent-child verbal interaction. Talking to your child, teaching them new words, interacting with their environment, reading books (real books, not digital) and creating conversations through play are vital elements in supporting your child’s language development.
One more thing to consider: just because your child loves to play on your phone or tablet or even watch a video in the car while you’re running errands doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for their development. When screen time replaces in-person interactions, it’s detrimental to the healthy development of young children.