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Screen time limits children’s speech, say researchers

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Increased screen time can limit children's speech development, Australian researchers have found.
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Increased screen time can limit children’s speech development, Australian researchers have found.

The Telethon Kids Institute analysed the behaviour of more than 200 toddlers in a study lasting two and a half years.

It found children missed out on hearing over 1000 words and hundreds of other sounds every day due to screen time — disruptions described by researchers as, “technoference”.

Screen time and child speech study

Families from multiple Australian states took part in the study to measure the effect of screen time on children’s development.

Participants aged one to three-years-old wore small digital language processors which monitored their audio for 16 hours a day, for one day every six months.

Reseachers interpreted these recordings to count adult words, child sounds, conversations, and electronic sounds.

Screen time

The study measured how long children were “exposed to any screen-based device” while awake.

It found, on average, three-year-old children spent about 2 hours and 52 minutes a day with a screen.

That’s higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum one hour of daily sedentary (not moving) screen time for children under five.

Impact on children’s speech

For every extra minute of screen time, children made fewer sounds, had fewer interactions and heard adults saying fewer words.

By the time a child turned three, the study found the average daily screen time meant kids missed out on:

  • 1,139 adult words
  • 843 sounds
  • 194 parent-child conversations

Researchers concluded screen time was limiting children’s vocabularies because they were less likely to organically hear and absorb the language used by adults around them.

Lead researcher Dr Mary Brushe said screen time is having a direct impact on young people’s critical development, and “interfering with opportunities to talk and interact in their home environment”.

Suggestions

Dr Busche conceded that it would be unrealistic to expect households to ban screen time entirely. Instead, she suggested parents actively participate in their child’s screen time.

For example, “singing along with theme songs, repeating phrases or questions from the screen, and using the content of a show as a conversation starter”.

The study has also recommended children watch high-quality educational material when they are in front of a screen.

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