Toddlers and Tech
Megan Wiessner, MA, CCC-SLP
My son uses an iPad app to increase his Spanish vocabulary. I learned to crochet a hat by watching a YouTube video. But what about toddlers—can technology boost their learning?
Children learn by playing, interacting with people, and exploring their environments. When something they are holding drops, they see it bounce on the floor. When they put food or a toy in their mouth, they experience new tastes and textures. When they make a noise, they learn that people around them respond by talking back or looking them in the eye.
For these reasons, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that children under the age of 2 avoid media altogether, because this is such a sensitive period of brain growth and development. According to their publication “Media and Children,” too much media exposure can lead to attention problems, difficulty in school, sleeping and eating disorders, and obesity.
However, according to a study conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in 2015, more than half of parents of 0-3 year olds use technology to keep their children entertained. The same study indicates that 24% of 2-year olds use technology at the dinner table. When families eat together, mealtimes can provide a setting for rich interaction and vocabulary development. That is, unless family members are hidden behind a screen.
From birth, typically-developing infants pay more attention to human faces than to other things in their environment. Also, parents naturally use a different way of speaking, called “parentese,” when they interact with their baby. They use a higher voice, speak more slowly, and use more repetition. (“Is baby hungry? Are you hungry? I think baby is hungry.”) These voice qualities capture babies’ attention and help them learn familiar words more quickly.
According to Judith Page, PhD, 2015 ASHA President, "…despite advances in technology, it remains critical that children have sufficient opportunities to develop their vocabulary and communication skills by listening, talking, reading, and interacting with their parents and others, for which there is no substitute."
This does, of course, require parents to take a look at their technology use as well. In order to interact with and stimulate your child’s growth and development, you must be available and not hidden behind a screen yourself. The AAP suggests establishing “screen-free zones” in your home, insisting for example that devices not be allowed in bedrooms or at the dinner table. Once clear rules are established regarding device use, and an emphasis is placed on free play and interaction, learning is likely to follow.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Media and Children. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2015, May 8). New ASHA Survey of U.S. Parents: Significant Percentages Report That Very Young Children Are Using Technology. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/About/news/Press-Releases/2015/New-ASHA-Survey-of-US-Parents-Significant-Percentages-Report-That-Very-Young-Children-Are-Using-Technology/.