Early exposure to gadgets may cause speech delay in kids
Facial expressions, taking in words, vocal intonation, and gestures are all required for proper language learning.
KOCHI: Electronic gadgets and mobile phones have become the preferred toys and ‘tantrum pacifiers’ for toddlers and pre-school children nowadays. It may be near impossible to spot children without some kind of gadgets in their hands. They are immersed in games or videos, oblivious to their surroundings - both at home and in public.
With the Covid pandemic increasing our dependency on electronic gadgets, overexposure to such devices is adversely affecting children, particularly toddlers below the age of three. Many cases of abnormal delays in speech and language development among kids of this age group are being reported at child care centres.
Parents carelessly give mobile phones to divert children’s attention, whenever they throw tantrums — be it in shopping malls, restaurants, at family functions or even at home. According to experts, 1-3 years is the crucial time for speech development in kids.
“Over 300 cases of speech delay in children (below 4 years) were reported here in the last one year. Parents also complain that kids who started talking go back on that development and now have difficulty uttering words. Normally, a child starts talking when he or she turns one. At two years, a child should say about 20 words and two-word sentences. When they turn three, an exponential increase in language development — over 600-800 words and three-word sentences — is expected,” said Dr Abraham Paul, paediatrician and executive director of Child Care Centre, a multidisciplinary centre involved in evaluating, identifying and remedying such conditions in children.
Studies have proved that there is a significant association between mobile media device use and expressive speech delay — a state where the child is able to understand and comprehend but fails to communicate. Studies also pointed out that a 30-minute increase in screen time can cause a 49% risk of expressive speech delay in children.
“Early stages of life play a significant role in the development of a child. It is the time when most of the essential developments in the brain take place, the most vital of them being language and speech development. Only if you stimulate the brain, do connections become strong. In case we don’t, the connections wither away and that will cause pruning of the cells,” said Dr Abraham.
Facial expressions, taking in words, vocal intonation, and gestures are all required for proper language learning. “When a child is exposed to mobile phones, he/she is not getting any of the interesting experiences from surroundings. It is the visuals on the screen that dictate where their attention should be. Over time, this can weaken a child’s ability to take in and filter information as well as switch attention from one task to another. In such cases, a child is unable to focus on a word, hindering the linguistic and social development partly,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, while parents are working from home, they don’t get time to spend with their kids. “The easy solution to settle down kids when they get hyperactive is to give them a phone or switch on the TV. This practice becomes an addiction for them. Kids are spending over six hours with electronic gadgets daily, causing severe health and developmental issues. Interactions within the family have come down. Parents should spend prime time with children, mobiles cannot take its place,” said a paediatrician based in Kochi.
Ill effects of overexposure
- Short attention span for the kids
- Risk of onset of communication disorders like autism
- Good pathways are not stimulated
- Lack of physical activity increases the risk of obesity and lifestyle diseases
- Prone to cognitive delays and behavioural issues
- Parents should spend plenty of time with kids
- Communication with the kids is important
- An audio source at home - playing rhymes and songs in the background will help
- Intensive treatment is required to divert them from electronic devices.