Do smart­phones dumb down baby talk?

Cana­dian study finds link be­tween screen time and ex­pres­sive lan­guage de­lay

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Study - Ar­lene Har­ris

These days every­one has a smart­phone and many are ad­dicted to it – check­ing for up­dates, surf­ing the net and send­ing mes­sages (mostly inane) have be­come part and par­cel of ev­ery­day life, par­tic­u­larly for the younger gen­er­a­tion.

But while it is im­por­tant that chil­dren keep up with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, re­search has also shown that spend­ing too much time look­ing at a screen can be detri­men­tal to their de­vel­op­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Toronto, tod­dlers should be kept away from elec­tronic de­vices, as com­mu­ni­ca­tion could be de­layed as a re­sult of too much us­age.

The Cana­dian study in­cluded 894 chil­dren aged be­tween six months and two years and re­sults showed that by 18 months, 20 per cent of par­tic­i­pat­ing chil­dren spent at least 28 min­utes each day look­ing at elec­tronic de­vices.

Se­nior au­thor Dr Cather­ine Birken says while “hand­held de­vices are ev­ery­where these days, par­ents need to en­sure their young­sters do not have un­lim­ited ac­cess to them.

“While new pae­di­atric guide­lines sug­gest lim­it­ing screen time for ba­bies and tod­dlers, we be­lieve that the use of smart­phones and tablets with young chil­dren has be­come quite com­mon,” she says. “This is the first study to re­port an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween hand­held screen time and in­creased risk of ex­pres­sive lan­guage de­lay.”

A re­cent study from Univer­sity Col­lege London also found that too much screen time has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on sleep and brain de­vel­op­ment, with ev­ery hour a young child spends on a de­vice be­ing linked to more than 15 min­utes less sleep at night.

Peadar Maxwell, se­nior child psy­chol­o­gist with the HSE, says it is vi­tal for chil­dren to spend as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble look­ing at a phone or tablet screen.

“When a child’s brain is de­vel­op­ing it is im­por­tant for them to in­ter­act with other peo­ple and with na­ture,” he says. “Star­ing, head down into a screen, does not fa­cil­i­tate the de­vel­op­ment of the nu­ances of com­mu­ni­ca­tion such as fa­cial ex­pres­sion and the emo­tional parts of lan­guage.

“While the lit­er­a­ture on smart screen tech­nol­ogy is new and some­what limited, some stud­ies have looked at what hap­pens when chil­dren spend time look­ing at screens rather than real hu­man faces and the jury so far is in favour of in­ter­act­ing with other peo­ple and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing na­ture. Screen time is an­other way to be alone, men­tally away from your fam­ily and other chil­dren – and that’s not rec­om­mended for so­cial and emo­tional de­vel­op­ment.”

The Wex­ford-based expert says while tod­dlers and young chil­dren need lots of ex­er­cise and ac­tiv­ity to learn how to move, have bal­ance and be co-or­di­nated, be­ing still and read­ing books is ac­tu­ally more ben­e­fi­cial than read­ing from a de­vice.

“Too much screen time takes away from chil­dren be­ing ac­tive,” he says. “But one study even pointed in the di­rec­tion that real paper books pro­moted a higher level of read­ing for very young chil­dren than read­ing from de­vices – and con­cluded that the in­ter­ac­tive com­po­nents of de­vices dis­tract the child from the writ­ten word and the story plot.”

It’s not just tod­dlers who are at risk from spend­ing too much time on­line, as re­cent re­search has shown that chil­dren as young as 11 are look­ing at porn, suf­fer­ing anx­i­ety as they try to keep up with (mostly fake) posts about the won­der­ful lives every­one else is hav­ing and are sub­jected to cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and con­tent that is far too old for them to deal with.

“The in­ter­net is a wholly dif­fer­ent world for older chil­dren and teenagers,” warns Maxwell. “Most of the happy and glam­orous posts on so­cial me­dia are re­ally fake news. A sort of hyped-up ver­sion of what hap­pened, mak­ing every­one look more in­ter­ested and pop­u­lar that they might ac­tu­ally be. That puts pres­sure on teenagers and chil­dren to be as beau­ti­ful, pop­u­lar or dar­ing as their peers.

“It also takes [the joy and spon­tane­ity] away from be­ing present at a party or event, as many young­sters spend time wor­ry­ing about get­ting the per­fect shot to share with the world.”

Dif­fi­cult ques­tion

What age to allow your child their own mo­bile phone is a very dif­fi­cult ques­tion and ev­ery par­ent has their own opin­ion, de­pend­ing on their child and their sit­u­a­tion.

Jes­sica Cullen lives in Dublin with her hus­band Paul and their five chil­dren, aged from 16 to five. She be­lieves that 10 is the best age for a child to have a phone and doesn’t think there is any need to have a time limit on us­age.

“The three el­dest have smart­phones which they got on their 10th birth­day,” she says. “The two older ones spend a lot of time on their phones, eas­ily half the day; Kayleigh (14) more so than Joshua (16), while Leon (10) doesn’t use it that much, just for watch­ing YouTube videos or lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, so at most about three hours a day.

“I don’t think a time limit is needed if it’s be­ing bal­anced right, mine don’t have any limit but if they were on it for an ex­ces­sive amount of time I would get them to do some­thing else. Leon plays with Lego and

‘‘ This is the first study to re­port an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween hand­held screen time and in­creased risk of ex­pres­sive lan­guage de­lay

his toys a lot and Joshua and Kayleigh would spend a good bit of time outdoors with friends, so thank­fully I don’t need to be strict on it.”

The mother-of-five says she has no is­sues with smart phones at all and so far has seen no ev­i­dence of any de­vel­op­men­tal or emo­tional dam­age.

“It could be just my chil­dren but the ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve had with them us­ing phones doesn’t worry me at all,” she says. “I don’t think it’s dam­ag­ing as they all do well in school, have no prob­lems with at­ten­tion and there is def­i­nitely noth­ing wrong with their imag­i­na­tion.

“But again, it’s all about bal­ance, I could see how it would be a prob­lem if chil­dren were stuck to the phone ev­ery minute of the day and do­ing noth­ing else.”

Peadar Maxwell agrees but says par­ents should be aware of how much time their chil­dren are on de­vices and what they are look­ing at on­line.

“There is no use pre­tend­ing tech­nol­ogy doesn’t ex­ist or ig­nor­ing ben­e­fits for par­ents and their chil­dren in terms of keep­ing in con­tact in a busy world,” he says. “But once your child has a smart­phone there’s no go­ing back.

“Al­ways agree on us­age rules be­fore you give your child a new de­vice, not af­ter­wards. And agree on a cur­few time so that their study, fam­ily time and sleep are not neg­a­tively im­pacted.

“The ac­tual age [to allow a phone] de­pends on your rou­tine, times of sep­a­ra­tion and your child’s abil­ity to han­dle a de­vice. Re­mem­ber that you are giv­ing your child in­ter­net ac­cess and all of the risks as­so­ci­ated with it.”

The Cullen chil­dren, Joshua, Kayleigh, Leon, Amelia and Cara, who range in age from 16 to five: Their mother, Jes­sica Cullen, be­lieves 10 is the best age for a child to have a phone

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.