Dear Editor:

As speech-language pathologists across New Jersey prepare to mark “National March into Literacy Month,” let’s address the alarming number of young children who spend countless hours a day on a handheld screen.

According to a study from the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, the more time that children under two years spend on smartphones, tablets and electronic games, the more likely they are to experience expressive language delay.

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For the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA), of which I am a member, this is of no great surprise. We know our youth learn language best through interaction and engagement with others. Toddlers who hear less language in their homes will likely have lower vocabulary skills.

According to the 2017 study, 20 percent of the youngsters spent an average of 28 minutes a day using screens. Every 30-minute increase in daily screen time was linked to a 49 percent increased risk of what researchers call “expressive speech delay.”

There certainly needs to be more definitive research, but this one study reaffirms the professional advice that we provide parents. Noise and activity of a screen can be distracting for a small child, creating a disconnect. If parents want to use screens as a learning tool, we strongly suggest they choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children, explaining what they are experiencing together.

With nearly 40 percent of children now having a mobile device, a stunning increase from just 10 percent in 2011, now is the time to make this issue a priority.

Brittany Zanzalari is a member of the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA).