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Using Technology Smartly for Language Development

As a parent, you’ve probably wondered more than once about the “right” approach to technology, and how screens impact your child’s speech and language development. While concerns about screens are valid, with a few simple tools, you can actually use technology as a resource to help your child’s development.

Multiple studies have linked excessive screen time to language delays. While quality and quantity do matter, the most dangerous element of screens is when we use them to replace ourselves as face-to-face teachers. Face-to-face with you is where a child learns to participate in back-and-forth exchanges, taking the turns that establish good communication and allowing them ample practice understanding and using sounds and words. It’s also how your child learns to read expressions, understand emotions and tone of voice, and maintain eye contact, which are all important social skills to help them get along with peers and function in society. 

In contrast, a child watching a screen is a quiet child in a one-way exchange. The screen does all the talking, without opportunity for your child to react, get input, and react again, as they would when playing with, or talking to, a person. 

Due to the potential harm that screens can cause, many professionals suggest avoiding technology. However, as a speech language pathologist in our modern world, I recommend making screen time smarter rather than eliminating it altogether. Here are three ways to use technology to advance your child’s language development.

Watch together

When you choose educational content and then sit down next to your child to play or watch together, apps and shows can be a great jumping-off point for conversation by introducing new vocabulary and concepts for you to teach your child. Co-viewing with your child adds that two-way, interactive element that is missing from unguided screen time. You can carry over what your child learns by helping them connect what they see onscreen to their own daily experiences.

Connect with the world

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers video chat to be separate from its daily screen time recommendations. Video chat helps your child form social connections — an integral piece of language development — especially when they may be otherwise largely confined to their home environment. A live person onscreen mimics many of the social language benefits your child gains from in-person time. A bit of creativity goes a long way; help your child sing a song with their screen partner, have an on-screen picnic and chat about your food, or take turns giving each other directions to build a structure with blocks. 

Educate yourself

Research shows that parents who know more about language development help their children take more turns in conversation, improving their expressive language more quickly. Plus, using screens to educate yourself adds no screen time for your child. The information out there can be overwhelming and confusing. Look for websites and apps that share “evidence-based practice” to help you gain the tools you need to help your child communicate effectively at any stage. The app I’ve created, SpeakEasy: Home Speech Therapy, educates parents on what to do with their early talkers and why. 

While technology can never replace that powerful face-to-face time, you can use your modern resources pragmatically. Co-view educational programs, make social connections, and educate yourself about your child’s development, and your child’s language will be well on its way.


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