The Average Australian Toddler spends 2-3 hours engaging in screen time each day

Did anyone see this rather startling headline in last week’s news bulletins?

At the outset it certainly makes you sit up and take notice.

The results of a long term, large scale study of Australian toddlers linked screen time to toddlers being exposed to 194 fewer conversations or missing out on hearing more than 1000 words spoken by adults each day.

The study then went on to say that, for every extra minute of screen time, our 3 year olds were hearing 7 fewer words and speaking 5 fewer words.

Yes, this finding needs to be acknowledged and, most definitely, addressed if we are to provide our children with the best start in life but let’s not use this as evidence to prove ‘all screen time is damaging’ or to make carers and parents feel guilty for allowing or even encouraging their young children to engage with screens.

Let’s use this information in the following ways:

Create Language Rich Environments for our Children

We know that being exposed to a language rich environment is critical in supporting the development of language in the early years.  Early language development predicts outcomes for children in later life including academic, social and emotional outcomes.

Screens are here to stay so, instead of demonising them, let’s accept that fact and really make efforts to engage our children in language opportunities that boost vocabulary development, engagement in back and forth interactions and play.  We can do this at times where screens are out of sight and out of mind.

The simple act of adults also putting away their screens (phones, laptops and televisions) and consciously following the lead of their child’s interests, getting down to their child’s level and playing will also work wonders in setting children on a path of language development.

Make conversation, story time and play with your child a daily habit and think about how you model the use of screens in your own life! Language rich environments and screens can live harmoniously side by side but we need to make a concerted effort for that to happen.

Remember that no programme, App or youtube channel has as much value when it comes to language development as YOU!

Children rely on the adults in their lives to provide opportunities for back and forth interactions, communication of new words and thoughts that match a child’s interests and children look to use for cues about what new words might mean.

There is no digital programme out there that can tune into your child’s interests as well as you nor is there an App that can provide true interactive experiences with another human in that way that you can!

Our young children are sponges!

Children don’t have ‘off’ waking hours when it comes to their potential to learn.  They are constantly absorbing new words and meanings as long as they are awake. Engage your child in conversation to stimulate this learning during your everyday routines, play and during car trips.  This will help your child to connect the dots between words and their meanings.  In doing so, you child will develop a rich vocabulary.  Be responsive.  Be enthusiastic.  Tune into your child and their interests in lovely serve and return interactions and your child will soak up language skills like a sponge.  If your child is interested in a screen based activity, why not try to occasionally dip in and comment or ask a question about what is happening?

Don’t feel guilty if screen time is used to help your child feel calm and regulate emotions

For many children but particularly those with complex and challenging communication disabilities, time spent interacting with a screen provides consistency and reliability in a world that is not always so predictable.  For many children, this helps them to feel calm and can sometimes settle a dysregulated child.  If this sounds like your child then don’t read the findings of the recent Australian study about screen time and attempt to ban all screen time for your child.  Instead, just continue to be mindful about when and why you are allowing or even encouraging screen time and do your best to provide language rich opportunities when your child is well regulated emotionally and seeking you / enjoying your company during play and interactions.

Screens are here to stay and the recent findings need to be acknowledged but responded to with kindness

Be kind to yourself and kind to your children.  Create some clear boundaries around the use of screens and make sure that your child understands these boundaries.

Maybe think about the type of screen time your child is engaged in and whether this could possibly be harmful.  Your child’s behaviour around ‘screen time’ will usually be a fair indicator of this.  Perhaps look at modifying the types of material or the amount of material your child is exposed to.  The guided access features of all Apple products also allows you to block some Apps or sections of the touch screen.

Consciously focus upon providing fun play opportunities and moments of emotional connection between you and your child and rest assured that you can nurture your child’s speech, language and communication skills whilst still providing a little access to screen time too.