the age of the screen

“It’s being talked with, not being talked at that teaches children language” – Dr. Hirsh-Pasek

Just a friendly heads up, I understand that this may be a sensitive topic and I have zero judgement regarding screen time as my sense of advocacy results from my own, personal over-use of screen time. It was a blind-spot for me…. a place where I lacked clarity of myself. I’m human, I’m a work in progress. I understand it may seem… strange, that I share screen time information on this platform, but where do people spend their time? My hope is to spread awareness of this epidemic and how it is affecting communication development. My hope is as adults we can change excessive screen time for the next generation….our babies.

The average daily media use for the youth in the US is seven hours and thirty-eight minutes (Westby, 2018). That was me. ME. I was spending a ridiculous amount of time on my phone. Hours wasted. And I don’t consider myself in the “youth” category. Unfortunately, I think this statistic also applies to adults. Don’t get me wrong… screens aren’t bad. There just needs to be some quality control.

Benefits of screens

  • entertainment
  • access to information
  • educational tools
  • economic efficiency
  • AAC/speech generating devices


Early intervention and preschool (ages 0-5)

What are young children doing on tablets? There is an app for everything! Puzzles, games, videos, music, flashcards, eBooks. Young children use them anywhere they have to wait. Doctor’s office, restaurants, baseball games, stores. They are missing out on social referencing, observing the environment, developing fine motor skills, exposure to pre-literacy, playing, interacting with caregivers.

Even background TV  (technoference) has been shown to delay language acquisition. Schmidt, M.E., et al. (2008) researched the effects of background television and young children. Their study showed less overall play, each play episode was shorter, and shorter bursts of focused attention. In addition, quantity of words and phrases, and number of new words spoken by the parents was lower than when the TV was off.

Children learn behavior from models. As parents we are trying to do our BEST at all the things. However, our screen time results in missed communication opportunities. It’s not just social media. It’s texting/email, news, looking up a recipe for dinner, paying a bill, ordering a pizza, checking the weather, scheduling an appointment, working from home. To a child ALL of these screen time activities look the same. Super convicting! The link between caregiver screen time and vocabulary is decreased opportunity to learn new vocabulary, decreased social communication, and language models, in addition to, fewer opportunities to ask questions.

School-aged children (ages 5-12)

This is such a tough one because the amount of screen media hasn’t changed much, but HOW kids use media has changed (Robb, 2017). Homework is being completed on a screen. School-aged children are using devices at home, in the classroom, and during social events. There are missed opportunities for learning when screen are present during social events: observing the environment, reading social cues, asking questions, listening to stories, sharing experiences, playing critical thinking games, and imaginative play.

Adolescents (ages 13-18)

Teens do everything adults do on devices! Activities of daily living, social media, online dating (scary), school/homework. Just like the other age groups, there are missed, critical opportunities: practicing interpersonal communication skills, asking questions/testing theories, sharing experiences, developing relationships, telling creative jokes, and gaining independence.

Over-exposure to screen time is impacting language skills such as verbal reasoning, non-literal language, use of humor, code switching, nonverbal communication, narrative language, written language, listening comprehension. Children who are over-exposed to screens demonstrate symptoms similar to ADHD, high functioning autism, social communication disorder, and specific language impairment.

Other screen time facts:

  1. Screen addiction is REAL. Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine”. Screens are becoming a digital drug and addiction researchers are seeing potential for addiction. (Westby, 2018)
  2. Research is now showing that screens may rewire developing brains.
  3. Continuous partial attention (CPA) is paying simultaneous attention to a number of sources of incoming information, but at a superficial level (Rose, E. 2010). CPA is motivated by a desire to connect. We want to scan for the best opportunities. We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always on, anywhere, anytime, anyplace behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis.
  4. Children with autism are more vulnerable to effects of screen time because screen time suppresses melatonin, disrupts sleep, causes emotional-dysregulation, and produces overstimulation.
  5. Joint attention or shared attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object. Sharing a focus not only helps individuals communicate, but it helps develop important social skills such as bonding and seeing another’s point of view. A child with access to screen time on an iPad or tablet is missing out on this critical component of social development.

Most of this information comes from presentations that I attended in order to maintain my state license and certificate of clinical competence. Dr. Carol Westby and Leanna Heinrich, fellow speech language pathologists, shared valuable and insightful research that I would be happy to pass along.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017). Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children. AAP New & Journals.

Cox Gurdon, Meghan. (2019). Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishing.

Doyle, Ann. (2014, October 2). When Social Media Turns Anti-social-and What We Can Do). [ASHA Leader Live]. Retrieved from

Robb, Michael. (2017). Kids’ Screen Time Shifts Dramatically Toward Phones and Tablets. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from

Schmidt, M.E., et al. (2008). The effects of background television on the toy play behavior of very young children, Child Development, 79 (4), 1137-115.

Wallace, Kelly. (2016, December 6). How much time do parents spend on screens? As much as their teens. CNN. Retrieved from

Westby, Carole. (2018, November). Screen Time, Learning, and Communication in the 21st Century. Presented at the Annual ASHA Convention, Boston, MA.

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