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Is all Screentime the same?: Thoughts from a Speech-Language Pathologist

It is 2020. Most children use a screen regularly - it is okay! I'm not here to shame or lecture anyone. My goal today is to make you think about the whens and the wheres of screen time because, in my opinion, not all screen time is created equally.

What do I mean? Screentime is screentime, isn't it?

Yes and no.

Let's start off by envisioning two scenarios. First scenario: You and your family are going for a family dinner. You arrive at the restaurant and are seated at a table. You look around, and you see another family at a table. Each member of this family is highly engrossed - with a screen.

What is your initial reaction?

Why do you think they are all on a screen?

Second scenario: You and your kids are going to a friend's house on the third rainy day in a row. When you arrive, your friend tells you her kids have been on their screens for a couple of hours.

What is your initial reaction?

Why do you think they are all on a screen?

Are your reactions different to the scenarios? Mine reactions are different. The question is, WHY are our reactions different? Why do we consider some screentime better than other screentime, even if the content is the same?

To me, it's all about what screentime is REPLACING.

At a restaurant, screentime is replacing family conversation, learning to be patient, and learning to take turns.

At a grocery store, screentime is replacing the modeling of vocabulary, asking questions, and dialogue with family members.

In the car, screentime is replacing daydreaming, being bored, reading a book, drawing, and playing I spy.

On a sunny day, screentime is replacing playing at the park, playing with friends, riding bikes, and going for a walk.

These everyday situations are when children learn language, how to take turns, social skills, play skills, and patience. These are critical skills for every child to learn! If we take away the opportunities for them to engage in everyday situations because they are watching a screen, those skills may take longer to develop.

So, what do we do about screens? I like to think about the WHENs and the WHEREs of screen time. WHEN: Try to use screens when there is absolutely nothing else to do. WHERE: Try to limit screentime to within the home, when possible.

It is important to mention that limiting screen time at home is not a bad idea. There has been plenty of research supporting a link between screen time and language delays, but that's a discussion for another day!

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