Home Academia & Research Balancing Screen Time Use With Young Clients and Their Parents

Balancing Screen Time Use With Young Clients and Their Parents

by Ruth Ann King
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A photo of little girl video conferencing with mother on digital tablet. Cropped image of daughter is touching screen of tablet computer. She is at table in home.

As my husband and I sat in a local restaurant, I took note of all the little heads dozing into screens and exclaimed, “My child will never do that!”

Sound familiar? I not only swallowed my pride time and time again as a parent, but I’ve also done it as a speech-language pathologist. I once found it easy to instruct parents on the dangers of digital media and the never-appropriate use for it at the dinner table. Now with two children of my own, both younger than 5, I know first-hand about the allure of digital media.

Digital media is part of our world. SLPs can’t ignore the role devices, screens, apps, and other digital forms of entertainment and education play as today’s children learn language.


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According to a technology mini-survey ASHA conducted in late 2017, 97 percent of audiologists and SLPs noted concern about effects of screen time (excluding AAC devices) on children’s communication development.

Common Sense Media reports kids ages 0 to 8 spend 48 minutes a day on mobile devices. This number tripled from the reported 15 minutes a day in 2013. The report also states 67 percent of parents whose children use digital media believe it “helps their learning.” Now more than ever, SLPs need to advocate for language learning—even with the use of digital media.

As a mother and SLP, I am attempting to embrace digital media—in moderation, of course—and educate parents and clients about the appropriate place for digital media in language learning.

Here are some strategies I’ve used to promote better screen time balance and enhanced communication.

Ask questions.

Awareness of the child’s digital media environment is often the first step in restructuring the digital diet. Ask parents about their child’s use of digital media as well, as their own. Parents often don’t realize their own time spent consuming digital media, so encourage them to track their own use of digital media. Many smart phones now feature settings to monitor usage.

Parental use of mobile devices can decrease frequency and value of parent-child interactions. Research confirms children need interactions with their parents or caregivers to promote development of cognitive skills, particularly language skills and executive function skills.

Teach in the moment.

Teach parents how to make all experiences—even virtual ones—language learning interactions. I always reinforce with parents how active play with human interaction remains the gold standard for language learning. Yes, every time a child engages in back-and-forth communication with a parent is an opportunity to foster language growth. For example, if a parent is scrolling through a social media or live news feed, they can allow their child to help scroll while discussing the pictures, people, emotions and actions viewed.

As an added language learning bonus, I tell parents to slow their rate of speech and over-articulate sounds to incite interest, while modeling correct sound productions.

Encourage co-viewing.

I provide parents, caregivers and teachers communication-building co-viewing strategies, such as engaging children in conversations during and following viewing, and explaining target vocabulary words during viewing. Research says preschool educational television programs can positively affect vocabulary, literacy, social behavior and academic knowledge.

Get the picture—or video.

You can create—and assign for homework—personal picture books and videos for clients and their caregivers to use for growing language skills. Use a smartphone or table to capture pictures of a child in their own environment and make electronic books they can swipe through with others. Kids love to tell stories—and what better visuals than themselves in their own environment. Email the books to parents and ask them to look through them with their children while discussing each image.

Similar interactions can occur using video clips of the child and their surroundings. Informal videos can also help young students learn new social scenarios, such as including everyone in a playground activity, or environmental happenings, such as a classroom fire drill. They can especially be useful for children to learn detailed descriptions.

Video chatting apps also offer a fun way to help clients learn new words, target eye contact, or practice social inferencing skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, video chatting is the only approved method of digital media for children under 18 months.

Ruth Ann King, MS, CCC-SLP,  owns King Speech-Language Therapy and also works at Magnolia Regional Health Center in Corinth, Mississippi. rking@kingspeechlanguagetherapy.com

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