By Dr Puja Kapoor
As recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children below 18 months of age should not be exposed to screen time, except for when they are video-chatting with family, friends, etc.
It has been well-researched and documented that an infant’s language development is more effective by live presentation than by a video. It is a proven fact now that very young children (less than two years) need ‘contingent interaction’, which is a two-way social interchange, to promote learning. The more the screen media mimics live interactions like video chatting, the more effective it is. A live human being generates interpersonal social cues that attract infant attention and enhance learning. It also provides information which is referential to the concerned child. In live exposure sessions, the speaker’s gaze provides joint visual attention, that is looking at the same object pointed by the speaker, which helps the infant to segment words from the ongoing speech. This, in turn, would highlight the phonetic unit contained in those words.
It has been demonstrated through various studies that speech learning occurs preferentially for signals that are derived from live humans rather than other sources or machines. Thus, when a known person is talking to a child through a screen, it has all the characteristics of live exposure apart from the touch stimuli. Video chatting is a two-way social interaction in which the child perceives the mood, tone, eye contact of the person with whom they are talking. There are personal cues like the child being addressed by their individual name, which initiates the interaction and the ongoing referential talk, along with the familiarity of the subject, making them understand the words. With every added chat they pick up, new words and neural pathways are activated.
Regular screen time is a one-way exchange, where only one person is communicating and there is only registration of the content, but no communication for the other person who is just listening. Also, there are no interpersonal cues and no joint attention, which is required for perception of phonetics. So, a child who has regular screen time, starts showing delays in speech and language development. Also, as regular screen time helps in only in registering the pictures, there is no imagination or stimulation by the brain, leading to lesser cognitive skills development, as compared to a child who has two-way interactions or exchanges.
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For children 24 to 30 months
It is also highlighted by various studies that toddlers from the age group of 24 to 30 months, are able to pick up more new words through video chat conversations than passive video presentation. There is evidence that specific vocabulary items can be learnt through exposure to television programmes at this age, but the more complex aspects of language such as phonetics and grammar are not acquired by TV exposure. There are a multitude of educational videos/games, etc, which are available in the market that claim to enhance cognitive skills in the child.
It has been recommended by the AAP that if parents/guardians are present along with the child to do some co-participation, the child grasps more content as compared to solo viewing. Also, the time limit should not exceed more than one hour. The same reasoning holds true for this age group as for children less than two years of age.
As the age progresses and the child has a set neural base for the speech/language and cognition, screen time could be used to boost the skills by specific programmes, games, educational videos. This can be discussed on an individual basis by the doctor and a ‘media plan’ could be made to hone the skills by using screen time.
(The writer is a paediatric neurologist and the co-founder of Continua Kids)
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