We live in a world where screens are commonplace and children are born immersed in this digital world. They see their parents and relatives with their cell phones constantly in hand and the fact that they too want to have one is inevitable. But, to what extent is it advisable and from what age is it recommended that you have your first contact with a digital device? How does mobile phone use affect children's language development? What do we need to know to use this resource responsibly?
Language develops thanks to the child's interaction with his environment. Their parents and caregivers are the main language models and the quantity and quality of the interactions will depend on the adequate development of the children's language.
The first two years are essential for the development of pre-verbal communication skills, which will enable the development of verbal communication. These are eye contact, social smile, joint attention, imitation, pointing and showing gestures.
The best way to help children develop language is to interact with them. Everyday interactions that take place at bath time, mealtime, bedtime, story time, or play time on the floor are all-important instances of adding verbal and non-verbal information that will lead to the development of language and its precursors.
There is scientific evidence that affirms that screen time in children under 2 years of age has an impact on language development, especially in the expressive aspect, decreasing the vocabulary and sentences that children make, being prone to develop delays in the development of the language.
The world's pediatric academies, for example the Argentine Society of Pediatrics in its report 'Grow with screens and be able to control it' agree that Children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to screens and children between the ages of 2 and 5 should be limited to less than 1 hour per day. So, what are the recommendations that experts suggest for the responsible use of screens between 2 and 5 years? Here the key is: WHAT children see and HOW they see it.
We know that screen time does not promote children's language development. Babies should not spend time in front of a screen, but if we have children from 2 to 5 years we can use them responsibly for a limited time. Some recommendations are:
1. Select high-quality programs by selecting content
The quality of a television program or applications designed for children is associated with better language results from its viewers. It is important to select content that the child can understand, is slow-paced, and is related to the child's experiences in everyday life. It's also important to select content from non-commercial sources to minimize exposure to advertising.
2. Take care of the context in which the child finds himself while using the screen
This means that there must be an adult present and accompanying, as for example, when we do it if we see a story book. We can take advantage of the moment of using the screens to be together, but always encouraging communication during that time.
- Talking about what you are seeing and making comments, for example, 'I really like those shoes that Minnie has' or' Oh, this part scares me!
- Ask questions such as 'What is the name of that puppy?' or 'Which character is funnier for you?'
- Ask questions about the future: 'What will happen when your mother finds out that the glass was broken?'.
- Make absurd comments about what they are seeing and have the child correct us and justify: 'That kitten is very hungry, he is going to eat a ball of wool' or 'The girl is sleepy so she wants to play'.
- Relate the information we are seeing with real experiences and knowledge of the child. For example, if you are seeing a truck, relate it to the trucks you saw on the street, the ones you have as a toy, tell you an anecdote of ours related to the subject.
- Watch videos of songs and pause them so that the child completes the sentence, for example, 'My donkey hurts my donkey….'. We can choose songs that have content for young children to learn basic notions: parts of the body, colors, means of transport, farm animals, actions, emotions.
- It is very important not to use these devices during meals or near bedtime, as they could interfere with falling asleep and upset the child.
3. Customize the type of activities to be carried out according to each child
The screens can be used to do minfulness or yoga with restless or high-activity children to encourage relaxation. Dances and choirs will also be good activities for those who like to move, in addition, they must follow directions and hold their attention while having fun.
Be attentive to the abilities and interests of the child to choose the activity so that it is much more motivating and that they get more out of the activity. For example, if your child likes boats, you can watch a tutorial together that shows you how to make it and create your own. And of course, then put it in a stream of water or in the bathtub.
It is important to know that nothing replaces the interaction between children and adults and children with each other for language development. Games, conversations, interactions in the real world in different contexts and with different people will always be the main promoters of this cognitive function.
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