Too much screen time may harm children’s oral skills, research suggests

Sydney Morning Herald 1 December 2014
Picture this all-too-common scenario: a family sits in a cafe, with children as young as one interacting – not with their siblings and parents – but with a digital device. With digital technologies readily available and the advent of the “digital native”, the amount of time children spend looking at screens has increased while other interactions have decreased. Yet there is a paucity of research about the impact of digital technologies on children’s minds. Leading neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, in her book Mind Change, presents arguments for further research.

Something we do know is that more screen time means fewer opportunities for children to listen to and engage in oral language. Engaging in oral language activities, structured or unstructured, provides children with rich opportunities to build their vocabularies, learn rules of social interaction, develop non-verbal language skills and learn to store and use new words.

Between the ages of two and five, children learn at an extraordinary pace, understanding and remembering words with only one or two exposures. This phenomenon is known as fast mapping.

Beyond this time, children need an average of 12 exposures to a new word before it is understood and remembered. It is a time when children’s vocabularies are rapidly expanding and they are also learning how to formulate questions and inquire about their world, follow instructions, articulate clearly and learn the rules of social engagement.

Parents and caregivers need to engage children in word play, storytelling, imaginative play and conversation.