Expert Articles

Screen Time and Early Language Development

Author: Karen KEI
Speech and Language Therapist

Screen time refers to the duration of time that is spent with any screen such as phones, television, video games, computers and tablets. There are two types of screen time: active and passive screen time. Active screen time is when a person engages cognitively and/or physically in digital activities, such as fitness games and playing educational games; whereas passive screen time is when a person engages in passive, screen-based activities which involve limited creativity or interaction such as watching television or video online. 

Recent studies have shown that the link between screen time and speech and language development is not straightforward and a number of factors have to be taken into consideration. These factors include: the child’s age, the duration of screen time, the presence of a co-viewer and video characteristics.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children aged 2 to 5 should not have more than 1 hour of screen time per day. For those under 2 years of age, it is best to avoid letting them in contact with any electronic screen products. Nevertheless, if you have to introduce a screen to your child, make sure you watch it together and do some follow-up activities so that the screen becomes meaningful in everyday life. 

What are some of the positive effects of screen time?
  • Increase vocabulary 
  • Encourage thinking and questioning 
  • Early literacy skills
What are some of the negative effects of screen time?
  • Physical development such as poor eyesight, dry and irritated eyes 
  • Cognitive development such as problem-solving skills 
  • Language delay 
  • Unable to recognise human emotions 
  • Weak social interaction skills 
  • Difficulty to control their frustration
  • Short attention span
  • Poor motor skills 
  • Obesity
What should I look for when choosing quality screen experiences for my child?
Educational apps

A lot of apps describe themselves as ‘educational’ and ‘interactive’, however it might still be considered as passive screen time as it focuses on its content and requires little joint attention and interaction. It is important to choose media or apps that are recommended or guided by developmental specialists. This ensures that the content focuses on skills and concepts that young children are ready to learn.

Educational videos

Similar to educational apps, choose age-appropriate media or channels that are designed for your child’s age and stage. Screen media content should reflect children’s everyday lives and daily routines, which makes it easier for children to understand and make sense of what they are watching. Parents should set up parental control to manage the time your child spends on the screen and the content they are watching.

What else can I do with my child instead?
Play with bubbles

Blowing bubbles is a great sensory play that keeps your baby engaged. Make sure you pause briefly and wait for your baby to respond by making a sound or movement before having another turn. This helps them to understand the idea of taking turns.

Play Peek-a-boo

Peek-a-boo is a great people game which encourages eye-contact, turn-taking skills and waiting. It also helps babies and toddlers to experience emotions such as happiness, surprise and excitement. You could try playing with one of their favourite toys.

Outdoor activities

Getting out of the house and participating in outdoor activities give you and your baby lots of opportunities to learn about the world around them. It is a great way to promote language. Talk about what your child is looking at or where you are taking them. You can say ‘Look, a bird’, ‘There’s a bus!’, ‘We are going to see grandma’, ‘Let’s go pick up your sister from school’.

Music and Dancing

Turn passive screen time into active screen time by adding music and dancing into the activity. Bring out the musical instruments and have a jam session with your baby. Music and Movement is a fantastic way to foster interaction and creativity.


Shared reading can start as young as the first year of a child’s life. Make reading part of your daily routine and a special moment between you and your child. Read books that have simple pictures, patterns and bright colours. Talk about what is happening in the story. For example, ‘The big bad wolf is coming!’, ‘The cat goes meow’.

Get involved in daily routines

Daily routines such as getting dressed, mealtimes and bathtime are great ways to foster parent-child interaction and language development. Make sure you are using a variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions. This will provide a lot of exposure and opportunities for new vocabulary and communication attempts. For example, when you are dressing your child, you can say ‘diaper’, ‘clean’, ‘put on’, ‘dirty’ etc. When you are feeding your child, you can describe what is happening such as ‘carrots’, ‘hot’, ‘yummy’, ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘full’ etc. For 2-3 years old toddlers, you can use short phrases, such as ‘Dirty diaper’, ‘Put on socks’, ‘Baby is full’, ‘Mummy is eating an apple’. 

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Screen Time and Early Language Development