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Speech Delays in Toddlers: Can TV be a Cause?

Child speacking into paper cup

We all know people who will swear on their lives that watching TV has improved their toddler’s speech. There is evidence to the contrary, though; evidence that watching TV can actually contribute to speech delays in toddlers.

Speech delays in toddlers

Before we get into the evidence and what you can do to help your child’s speech along, I want to make it clear that watching TV isn’t often the cause (though it can be a contributing factor) of a physical or physiologically caused speech delay.

Causes of a speech delay can be any of the following:

  • oral issues
  • hearing impairment
  • developmental disorders
  • learning disabilities
  • ear infections

According to most Speech Therapists and other medical professionals, here are the general expectations of a young child’s speech development:

Normal speech vs speech delay

Of course, every child develops differently. Some children focus on their verbal skills early on, while other children’s focus is on their motor development.

Anecdotally, my first child was still pretty much babbling until close to her second birthday, but she surprised us by breaking out into full sentences around 22 months.

She was screen free for the majority of her childhood. She was simply a listener and observer, not a talker.

Often, there is nothing to worry about if your child isn’t on target with these guidelines, but there is never any harm in checking with your child’s pediatrician if you are worried.

TV and delayed speech

child watching TV

A child’s developing speech comes from real life interactions. Talking to your child, reading to your child, and listening to your child are critical in the first years of life.

The first 6 years of life are when a child’s brain is the most receptive to language acquisition. Children in these years can learn multiple languages with much greater ease than an adult.

So, what about those who believe watching TV is improving their child’s vocabulary?

Basically, they are wrong.

Studies show that children are more likely to imitate actions and language from live interactions, than from screens. This is why toddlers who watch more than the recommended amount of screen time are more likely to demonstrate speech delays.

screen time recommendations

Screen time contributing to speech delays in young children isn’t black and white, though. A difference between children left to watch TV on their own and children who watch TV with an adult presents itself in these studies.

This is likely due to the fact that when an adult is present during a TV program, there is conversation going on about the content. This conversation can happen prior to the start of the show, during the program, and can continue after the show has ended.

The major issue with excessive screen time is that it replaces time wherein your toddler could be hearing and/or engaging in interactive speech.

Did TV cause MY child’s speech delay?

There is really know way to tell, but if your child already has medical or developmental reasons for their speech delay, TV definitely isn’t helping.

What you can do is try a little “screen detox” period. Give your child a few weeks or more of live interaction, reading lots of books, playing games, building with blocks, ect.

An no TV or tablet time.

Give them ample opportunities to hear real life speech.

I’m not recommending that you should talk incessantly to them. They also need ample opportunities to practice the words they are hearing.

This doesn’t mean you should have them repeat the words you are saying or quiz them in any way. This should be a natural process; just have conversations!

This involves giving your child the chance to respond to you, whether their words are coherent or not.

father reading to son, a way to help speech delays

Removing screen time beyond the recommendations can be hard; hard for you and hard for you child, if that’s what everyone has become used to.

Your child’s reaction to the change in routine is likely to cause some big feelings. Just be there for your child and help give them the words for what they are feeling.

Many parents depend on some TV time to get things done, relax for a while, or because they believe their child needs constant entertainment and stimulation.

While the latter reason is something parents need to accept as untrue, putting your child in front of the TV because you need a few moments to yourself is not harmful.

If your child has a speech delay, though, cutting out screens entirely should be something you should consider. The tantrums will be temporary and your child will learn how to enjoy real life interactions.

This can even help set your child on the path to independent play!

If you are concerned that screen time is contributing to speech delays, you can do something about it!

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Jennifer Maune

Saturday 28th of December 2019

This is such great information! I love the recommendations to help introduce more vocabulary to your child. Great read!



Friday 27th of December 2019

There is more to the speech delay / word expectation though... there’s often other signs of non-normalcy with speech or learning patterns that show something is wrong. My son is slightly delayed with his speech, but his learning has been consistent and steady, so we’re choosing to not worry about it. We read constantly, sing, dance, and interact in playful/fun ways to help him learn. And he doesn’t watch much TV.


Tuesday 24th of December 2019

I love the graphic that you provided! It is a great visual of what families should expect.

Kelly| citytoast2southerntea

Tuesday 24th of December 2019

I never thought about it this way. Too much screen time is effective.

Nicole york

Monday 23rd of December 2019

Good read! It's so easy to resort to giving kids electronics before just reading or interacting with them nowadays.

Comments are closed.