Research into the effect of excessive screen time on oral language development and later schooling success is still in its infancy, but the more a child is engaged with technology, the less they are interacting with humans.

This results in fewer opportunities for children to listen to and engage in conversations which are fundamental in learning to speak and communicate effectively. These early interactions provide children with the opportunity to build their vocabularies, understand social rules of language such as turn taking and asking questions as well as understanding body language and facial expressions.

Health authorities have become concerned with the boom in the use of technology by young children. It is feared that there will be serious knock-on effects in the areas of education and health which has prompted the Australian Department of Health to issue guidelines regarding screen time for children aged under five years.

The guidelines are:

  • Children younger than two years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games).
  • For children two to five years of age, sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games) should be limited to less than one hour per day.
  • Infants, toddlers and preschoolers (all children birth to five years) should not be sedentary, restrained, or kept inactive, for more than one hour at a time, with the exception of sleeping.

Between two and five years of age, children are like sponges. They soak up all the oral language input and learning new words (sometimes words we wish they didn’t learn) at an incredible rate.

At two years of age, children should have a vocabulary of 50 words and we should begin to see them combining two words together to get their needs met and to express themselves such as “more milk” or “Daddy home”. In order for this development to occur adults need to spend time engaging with their children in play, book reading and conversation to model how communication works.

Linking oral language skills and reading and writing

It is heavily documented in the literature that there are strong links between oral language skills and a child’s ability to read and write. In fact, a recent study has indicated we can predict how good a child can read and spell at 11 years of age based on their oral language skills at age two.
With all that being said, technology is here to stay and there are some very real benefits of using technology to supplement children’s language and literacy development.

Obviously, reduced screen time and more time interacting with your child will prove most beneficial in developing their communication skills. However, the following strategies can be utilised to enhance your child’s oral language when they are engaging with technology:

  • Introduce new words around the game they are engaged in.
  • Expand on their utterances. For example if they are playing a game about animals and they say ‘dog barking’, you can expand on that and say ‘Yes. The dog is barking at the boy’.
  • Have your child predict what will happen next.
  • Pause their game and ask them to retell what has just happened.