Teachers in early childhood settings widely acknowledge that the number of children needing help with speech and language is growing, and many believe this is due to excessive ‘screen time’ from a young age.
Smart devices have become an integral aspect of life and communication for most of the world and, from an early age, children are exposed to screens via phones, tablets, computers and televisions.
As such, early childhood teachers are well placed to work in partnership with families to help make decisions around smart devices and cognitive development that are in the best interests of children.
This is why qualified teachers are essential to early childhood education – they are experts at ensuring young children are supported in their development while introducing them to tools and technologies that will assist them in their lifelong learning.
Time takes a toll
In a national survey, 80 per cent of parents indicated they were worried their children spend too much time on screens (Huber, 2019).
This may reflect a fear that screen time is displacing other aspects of childhood, such as social interactions with other children and nature play, which are critical to cognitive development.
This is referred to as Displacement Theory and has been a major focus of research since the introduction of television sets into households during the 20th century (Huber, 2019). While there are criticisms of this theory, research over the years has found:
- Higher levels of screen time at 24 and 36 months are significantly associated with poorer performance in developmental tests at 36 and 60 months (Madigan et al., 2019).
- Children exposed to screens in the morning before school are three times more likely to develop primary language disorders. When combined with rarely or never discussing screen content with parents, they were six times more likely to have language problems (Collet et al., 2018).
- Among children aged eight to 16 months, each hour per day of viewing DVDs/videos was associated with a 16.99-point decrease in an index of development known as the Communicative Development Inventory (Zimmerman, Christakis and Meltzoff, 2007).
Viewing versus engagement
A caveat in some of the critical analysis of the literature suggests that much of the evidence for negative impacts is still derived from studies of TV viewing, rather than engagement with smart devices.
Children under three learn better from live interactions than devices so they have little to gain from screens in the absence of a parent, peer or teacher (Huber, 2019).