speech therapist Fort Myers

Fort Myers Speech Therapist Tips on Reducing Kids’ Screen Time

Kids’ recreational screen time more than doubled in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. This is concerning news because, as a Fort Myers speech therapist will tell you, excessive use of screen time can have numerous adverse impacts. In particular, these include:

  • Unhealthy weight gain.
  • Reduction in social skills.
  • Depression.
  • Delay in speech-language development (particularly for younger children).

The researchers looked at a group of more than 5,400 kids. Their average daily screen time prior to the pandemic was about 3.8 hours (still pretty high!). (The data was initially gleaned to study how cognitive development is impacted by screen time.) Then during the pandemic, kids’ use of electronic screens doubled to 7.7 hours daily. It should be noted that figure excluded school-related screen time, which many kids engaged in on-and-off, either in virtual school or some hybrid. Here in Southwest Florida, many schoolchildren are also assigned a set number of weekly minutes through a reading-math program called iReady. This too would have been excluded.

Analysts were solely looking at recreational screen time. That would include the use of electronic devices (phones, iPads, gaming systems, etc.) for things like:

  • Multiple-player gaming.
  • Single-player gaming.
  • Texting.
  • Social media.
  • Video chatting.
  • Browsing the internet.
  • Watching streaming movies, videos, or television shows.

Developmental Impacts of Too Much Screen Time

In some cases, particularly with older kids, some outlets of screen time can be used to promote greater social connection (such as how a speech therapist might use Zoom for virtual speech therapy sessions), study authors found that in general, high use of screen time was associated with fewer social supports, less social connections, and reduced emotional coping behaviors. In addition to weight gain, physical impacts of too much screen time include things like headaches and tired eyes.

Some psychologists have repeated that young clients who have been granted excess screen time during the pandemic have struggled with social skills and socioemotional deficits as they’re getting back to more normal routines. Many are experiencing high levels of social anxiety and fear of real-life interactions. Such issues can be especially oversized for children on the autism spectrum and others who struggle with disabilities or developmental delays. It’s also been noted that preschool kids with increased screen time have evidence of lower brain development.

Recent analysis of toddler screen time impacts found that kids ages 6 months to 2 years who had a lot of screen time were at a 49 percent increased risk of an expressive speech delay. In other words, the more handheld screen time was reported, the more likely the child was to have an expressive speech delay. As a Fort Myers speech therapist can explain, expressive speech is the type of communication we use to express ourselves, versus receptive language, which is the type of communication used to understand what others are saying to us.

Another study of 1,000 parents of kids under 2 found that for each additional hour of videos that kids 8-to-16-months watched each day, they said an average of 6-8 fewer words. That’s a pretty significant – and troubling – gap, given how ubiquitous screens have become.

There is also a concern that kids may have fewer social-emotional coping mechanisms because they basically never have to deal with being bored.

Speech Therapist Tips for Tapering Your Child’s Screen Time

Transitioning from a lot of screen time to considerably less something with which many parents are currently struggling. Some suggestions from our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapy team:

  • Set timers. Help regulate access to the screen and how long it’s on.
  • Set up a reward system. Encourage kids to replace their screen time with household chores and needs, and then make a set amount of screen time a reward for expected behaviors.
  • Invest in more board games that you can play together as a family. If you’re short on cash, thrift stores often have a stash of gently-used options to choose from. (In the long run, board games are probably going to be a lot less expensive than all those apps on your phone.)
  • Sign kids up for more in-person activities. These can include play dates, sports, music classes, dance classes, drama clubs – anything that is going to increase their face-to-face interactions.

Also, don’t forget to give yourself – and your child – a little grace when moving through this transition. It’s going to take time to reverse negative habits. But simply by taking the first few steps and reshaping how you see your kids’ day-to-day experiences can make a big difference moving forward.

If you need additional ideas or support or are concerned about your child’s speech-language development, our Fort Myers pediatric speech therapists can help.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy at two clinics in Fort Myers, with virtual speech therapy and occupational therapy offered to kids throughout the state of Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children, May 4, 2017, American Academy of Pediatrics

More Blog Entries:

Fort Myers Speech Therapy Insight: Strategies We Use to Help Your Child Talk, Oct. 28, 2021, Lee County Florida Speech Therapy Blog

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