Updated: Jul 30
SLPs take on screen time and its effect on communication development in babies.
I received a phone call from a parent who was concerned about his 17 month-old’s limited use of words. My first question was do you suspect your child has a hearing impairment. He told me that his son’s hearing was intact. My second question was, does your child follow simple instructions. For example, “kick the ball”, put away your toys”, “clean up”. The parent told him he follows simple commands. With that piece of information, I asked about birth history and pertinent medical information, and the dad said everything was normal.
After gathering this basic information, my second thought was to provide general tips to promote expressive communication including reading books together, naming items in the environment, and giving lots of positive reinforcement.
During the next part of our conversation, things got a little weird for me. The parent told me that he spoke with another speech therapist who recommended that his 17-month old child watch Ms. Monica so he can learn how to talk. I was flabbergasted. First, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, should choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children. Toddlers learn best when they engage in face to face interactions with a parent/caregiver, not sit and watch Ms. Monica and CoComelon unsupervised.
As an expert in communication development, I strongly believe that babies benefit more from face to face interactions with a communication partner. One of the advantages is learning the basic tenets of reciprocity during conversation. Also, babies need to be able to see communication partners in real life so they can observe non-verbal communications including facial expressions and gestures. Babies need to see up close and personal the movements of the articulators (mouth, lips, jaw) so they can learn and imitate speech movements appropriately. Babies need to see facial gestures, touch and engage all aspects of their senses while learning rather than passively watching or steering at a screen.
If and when babies are given screen time, then a conversational partner should be present to serve as a facilitator to explain, pause, wait for reactions and check for the babies' understanding of the information presented. As a SLP and mother, I do not recommend CoComelon and Ms. Monica to toddlers under age 2. This is a critical window of development and bonding that should be shared with direct, face to face contact and communication with parents, caregivers and loved ones.