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Screen time linked to poor childhood language development

November 17, 2022

Research by the University of Helsinki shows a distinct correlation between the amount of time preschool children spend in front of screens and poorer lexical skills and general language levels.

Research shows a correlation between the amount of time preschool children spend in front of screens and poorer language skills.

Using Finnish-speaking children aged between 2 and 4 years of age who did not have any neurological diagnoses, the study examined the time spent alone or together with the parent in front of a screen, as well as different domains of language in the subjects.

In addition, the researchers investigated the connections between mothers’ screen time and their children’s language development.

In the study, screen time denoted any time spent in front of televisions, game consoles, computers, smartphones and tablets. The time accumulated was determined with a questionnaire.

The children’s lexical skills, skills related to language structure, speech comprehension and the general language level, were then investigated through various tests.

A total of 164 children and their mothers participated in the study. On average, the children spent 79 minutes per day on their devices, of which 44 minutes were spent alone and the rest with the parent. The average screen time for mothers was 5.5 hours per day, including time spent at work.

At first, it appeared that screen time spent together positively affected the child’s vocabulary and general language ability. However, as shared moments became less frequent, this initial connection was no longer significant.

Doctoral Researcher Riikka Mustonen from the Department of Psychology and Logopedics at the University of Helsinki said the results of the study suggest that “screen time spent alone by preschool-aged children should be restricted.”

“We also found that the more screen time mothers had, the narrower the vocabulary used by the children and the poorer their language ability on a general level.

“A negative association with vocabulary and general language ability was stronger if both the child and mother spent a lot of time independently using devices.”

Related: Lack of sleep linked to poor cognitive development

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