“ Opportunity Cost” The Compounding Impact Screen Time Has on Language Development


As the school year starts, the amount of time that families have to interact with their children will become less and less. Moreover, as the weather turns colder, obvious family centered outdoor activities will become harder to plan for. The natural tendency for screen time will increase as a way to unwind.  Children and parents alike will reach for the devices with greater frequency. Additionally, as technology has changed, screen time has moved further away from a shared experience at a fixed time and place to isolating experiences available all of the time with endless content available. 


Research has uncovered and continues to uncover a slew of negative byproducts “increased” screen time has on the developing brain. From chemical changes that increase dysregulation and changes to sleep patterns to reduction in attention and emotional regulation, these areas affect learning and language development. However, while these are additive changes that increase screen time results in, the reality is that it significantly DECREASES the amount of time for dynamic social language input as well.  Advanced technology has created an “opportunity cost”.  Previous opportunities for a “family laboratory” to work on exposure to new vocabulary, problem solving in groups, and regular practice for a variety of social conversations and story retelling is significantly limited when competition for screen time.  Interestingly, the increase in screen time does not have to be the child’s for the children to be negatively impacted. The term “continuous partial attention” refers to the interference a parent’s screen usage has for our most primitive emotional cueing system based  on responsive communication. This creates physical presence but emotional disconnection and children do not always have the emotional intelligence to counter that. Therefore, there are fewer opportunities for verbal and non-verbal interactions limiting the significant learning that takes place in social context through relationships with other humans; the best playground for language development. This is especially true during the ages of birth to three. So instead of thinking of decreasing the amount of screen time, think of the growth that can occur in growing opportunities for social language interactions throughout the regular routine of the day, laying the much needed foundation for learning through a variety of means to explore as a  teenager and an adult. 



Screen Use in Children and Impact on Development: What Changed?  Angie Neal M.S. CCC-SLP

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