In recent years, electronic devices have become very important and play an important role in our lives since we are born. Electronic devices or screens are understood as television, mobile devices, computers, tablets, etc.

Screens are a very attractive resource for both children and adults. They are a mean of entertainment, study, work, etc. It is important to know how to use this resource in a way that does not have a negative impact on our child’s development.

Currently, children start using these devices between 12 and 24 months of age. However, the American Association of Paediatrics does not recommend the use of screens before the age of 2 years. Between the ages of 2 and 5, this association does not recommend using screens for more than 2 hours a day. On the other hand, the Spanish Association of Paediatrics does not recommend the use of screens for more than half an hour for children under 3 years of age and up to 2 hours for older children. Finally, the WHO recommends that the use of screens in children under 2 years of age should not be exposed to screens, in children between 2 and 4 years of age, they recommend that the exposure time does not exceed 1 hour and, in children between 5 and 7 years of age, it should not exceed 2 hours of use.

All organisations recommend that the use of screens during childhood should be very limited. This is because, at this stage, the brain is still developing and the use of these devices limits opportunities for learning and interaction with the environment. Interacting with the environment and the people that surrounds the baby is the main source of learning.


Age Number of Hours of Exposure
0-2 years Screen exposure not recommended
3-4 years 1 hour of use
5-7 years Maximum 2 hours of use
¿Cómo afecta un uso excesivo de las pantallas al lenguaje? 2

Several studies correlate that early and prolonged exposure to screens is linked with poorer language and cognitive development. In addition, they link excessive screen use with language delay, as well as poorer vocabulary and expression difficulties.

The impact of screens on children's development

Excessive exposure to screens can lead to:

  • Negative impact on neuroplasticity.
  • Disruption of communication with their environment.
  • Impact on the development of executive functions (attention, inhibition, memory).
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Sedentary lifestyle.

An abusive use of screens can affect concentration, empathy, frustration management and impulse control, among others. These skills are very important for social interaction. This social interaction is the basis for language learning. Furthermore, prolonged use of screens can replace moments of physical activity or play shared with others. They also limit the number of interactions with peers or elders, these interactions are great learning opportunities where they acquire requirements to develop language or, to acquire more complex structures following an adult model.

In addition, excessive use of electronic devices can affect the development of executive functions such as attention, memory or inhibition. If children’s attention is focused on a screen, they ignore other stimuli in the surrounding environment.

Use of screens and language

The first three years of life are of great importance in the development of communication and language. These years are the critical period for language learning, and if it is exceeded, language acquisition may be delayed in relation to normal language development.

Communication consists of transmitting and receiving a message by sharing a common code. It can be communicated through gestures, body and facial expressions, etc. Even before they can imitate words, babies communicate with their environment. Language is acquired through interaction with the environment and with other people, thus integrating the requirements of language implicitly, through imitation of the models offered by adults.

Babies babble, vocalise, make gestures, etc. These are ways for them to communicate and to begin to learn some of the prerequisites for language. Among these prerequisites are turn-taking, joint attention. In addition, before saying words, babies begin to explore the different sounds they can make with their orofacial structures. These are moments when babies interact with their environment. With excessive use of screens, these opportunities for interaction and stimulation are lost, as electronic devices do not respond to their interactions. Thus, early screen use limits children’s communicative intent.

¿Cómo afecta un uso excesivo de las pantallas al lenguaje? 3

As mentioned, interaction with others is the way in which language is learned and developed. Generally, this takes place through play, either with peers or with adults. During the 2-6 years stage, symbolic play and functional play take place. These are two types of play in which children give a different use to the object they are playing with (playing with a banana as if it were a telephone) or play where children use objects in the way they are intended to be used (playing doctors or superheroes). Excessive use of electronic devices will reduce the opportunities for these games to occur, as for them to occur, the child must be present in the environment to replicate everyday situations. On the other hand, the games that electronic devices can offer do not offer this type of interaction, as the games they offer have pre-established dialogues that do not encourage children’s creativity or imagination.

Screens reduce opportunities for interaction. Can impact on language by generating:

  • Poor vocabulary.
  • Difficulty in comprehension.
  • Difficulty in initiating or maintaining a conversation.
  • Difficulty in taking turns to speak.
  • Decreased verbal fluency.

Impact of screens on language development

In the early stages of life, children need to explore and interact with their environment, touching, shaking and throwing objects. It is very important that technology should not replace social activities and outdoor play. These are great opportunities for children to acquire and develop interpersonal, motor and communication skills. Excessive use of electronic devices is associated with delayed motor skills, delayed cognitive and language development and poorer academic performance.

In addition, face-to-face interaction between adult and infant, as well as interaction with peers, is of great importance for language development. There are several ways in which screens impact on language development:

Overexposure to screens reduces situations of interaction between children and their parents or between peers, as well as opportunities for play involving social interaction. These interaction situations are critical for language development.

Children learn words within the interaction with adults, where the latter reward and respond quickly to the child’s communicative intention. Thus, when adults do not participate in this exchange, an important pragmatic premise for communication is broken. It should be added that when adults also overuse screens, the number of dialogues the child can listen to is reduced.

Most content on devices does not encourage language development. This limits children’s exposure to complex words and structures. Their vocabulary and ability to express their ideas is affected.

It replaces other important activities, such as symbolic play or reading.

¿Cómo afecta un uso excesivo de las pantallas al lenguaje? 5

Despite this, screens not only have negative effects, they can also offer some benefits:

  • Exposure to new ideas.
  • They encourage creativity and imagination.
  • Great source of knowledge.

What can be done to stop the misuse of screens?

Electronic devices and screens are a reality that we live with. Moreover, it is a field that is at its peak and will continue to gain prominence in our lives. That is why eliminating them completely from our children’s lives is not a realistic goal. Instead, they should be used responsibly and supervised by an adult.

    • Establish an appropriate time for the use of screens. Specialists do not recommend their use for children under 2 years of age. For children between 2 and 5 years of age, it is recommended that use should not exceed 2 hours.
    • Control the content they access. Ensure that the content they consume allows interaction with the child. As far as possible, look for games that are not solitary.
    • Try that the access content that promote their learning.
    • Set aside time for other games or activities that do not involve screens.
    • Set an example. Adults should use screens consciously and do activities that do not involve these devices. In this way, children will have role models to imitate.
¿Cómo afecta un uso excesivo de las pantallas al lenguaje? 4

As mentioned in this article, there are studies that correlate early and prolonged exposure with language delay. Furthermore, they describe the language of children who are overexposed to these devices as poor and with simple grammatical structures. Furthermore, it can be seen that screen use affects not only language development and acquisition, but also cognitive development.

Despite this, screens are a reality that we live with and will continue to gain prominence. This is why we adults must ensure that we make good use of them and guarantee that our children have time for play and activities without screens being present.

About the author

Mariló Martínez is a Speech and Language Therapist at Sinews. She has a master’s degree in early intervention, this means she is a specialist in working with children from 0 to 6 years. However, she can treat other pathologies that are speech, language or learning related.

Mariló Martínez Zamora
Division of Speech Therapy
Mariló Martínez Zamora
Speech Therapist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
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