Speech Therapists, Screen Time and Toddlers – What We Know

A common question speech-language pathologists ask parents is “How much screen-time/technology does your child have every day?” Five years ago we were not addressing this concern with parents. Times have changed. Today, two-thirds of two-year olds are using tablets and more than half interact with smart phones.  Technology is becoming overwhelmingly used in the early years and in many cases is replacing the very necessary social interactions children need with their parents and caregivers.


Brain Development and Social Interaction

A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three years of age, producing approximately 700 new neural connections every second. By two years of age, the brain is 80% of the adult size. That is a lot of growth in a very short period of time. Therefore, it is extremely important to take advantage of as many experiences and opportunities to interact with our children as we can. 

Young children primarily learn through play and their interactions with their parents and caregivers. Social interactions are imperative during these early years to help develop vocabulary and listening skills. A device will never be able to replace the value of a social interaction or conversation with a parent or caregiver. Personal conversations with our children help to facilitate social skill development (eye contact, turn-taking, interaction), speech skills (sounds, grammar), and language skills (vocabulary, understanding, use). The rapid brain development that occurs before age three is dependent on human connection and communication and is directly related to the growth of children’s speech language abilities and social skill development. . Unfortunately technology has been shown in many studies to decrease the opportunity for these necessary interactions. 


Hearing and Technology

Many of today’s technology is being accessed using ear buds. Parents in a study completed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association were concerned that the loud noise from technology might lead to hearing loss in their children. Studies revealed that 1 in 5 Americans 12 and older have a hearing loss which makes communication more difficult. Continued misuse of technology may increase this population.


Tips to Replace Screen Time

So what are some ways to decrease technology and increase conversations with my child?

  • Start by monitoring the amount of time your child spends on technology. Become intentional in your interactions with your child.
  • Talk about the environment outside your window each day, what kinds of fruits/vegetables you see in the grocery isle, and play simple games such as “I spy.”
  • Attend your local library and begin to engage in simple book reading and story-telling. Many young children can begin to tell their own story using pictures from a book or ones they made themselves.
  • Having your child help sort laundry and identify whose item of clothing belongs in whose pile/room opens up conversations about size, colour, and ownership.
  • While driving listen to books on CD, let them play with a felt board, sing songs, chat about where you are going and what you are doing (e.g., “We are going to get groceries and then to the swimming pool”)

Human conversations are essential in developing communication and interaction skills. Although technology has many benefits in our lives today, let’s be intentional in how we engage with our children and start to think about reducing technology in our interactions with them. Let’s try to focus on increasing our talking, listening, and social exchanges to build a solid foundation for a lifelong journey of communication.

The Speech Language Network Team  


To learn more about technology & the early years we strongly encourage you to read the following articles;

1. Tech Tips – A link to some fun tips for taking your everyday technology-related activities and adding interaction to help build your child’s language and literacy skills http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/technology-corner.aspx

2. Infants and Toddlers “Unplugged” http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Unplugged–New-recommendations-about-Media-Use-fro.aspx