A study done by Tampere University Hospital, TAYS, reveals a connection with excessive screen time and declining vocabulary skills among young toddlers. Abundance of screen time might slow down the child’s ability to learn to speak and weaken their vocabulary.

Nearly 1,700 Finnish speaking families took part in the study. Data was collected from 2013 until 2015. The study focused in children at 1.5 and 2 years of age and it examined the development of speech as well as capability of linguistic expression.

The study accounted for the daily total time spent in front of a screen: screen time including watching TV, using streaming devices like tables, and other electronic devices like phones. The study also took under consideration how much screen time the parents had, and if the electronic devices were just on. Data was also collected of the time read out loud for the children and how long did the kids sleep.

Part of the study, the parents were asked to observe and report on:

  • Child’s vocabulary
  • Word combination
  • Speech intelligibility
  • Finger-pointing
  • Instruction following abilities

Excessive screen time decreased child’s vocabulary.

Results on data collected regarding vocabulary:

  • 2/3 of the 1.5-year-olds had vocabularies of no more than 20 words
  • 1/3 of the 1.5-year-olds knew maximum 5 words
  • Less than 1/3 of the 2-year-olds knew more than 40 words
  • Only tenth of the 2-year-olds knew between 40 to 50 words

The research shows that the child’s vocabularies appear to develop slower than before, when the time spent in front of a screen is excessive. Marja Asikainen, the Chief Speech Therapist at the University Department of Phoniatrics mentioned in Yle’s article, that the quality time children get to spent with parents also affects the results. It’s not only the time spent with kids, it is also about what is done during the time, how, and how often. If the parent is distracted by electronic devices during the time spent with the child, this can limit the conversation and play between parents and their children. This has a negative impact on the child’s linguistic development.

All media is not bad.

The research also discovered that all screen time and media content is not necessarily bad. It can be harmless and even help develop the child’s ability to function, if the content is well chosen and meaningful. Balanced activities are important and children should have plenty of time for other activities as well, far away from the screen.

Importance of reading out loud.

The study also recorded how much parents read to their children, or explored picture books with them. Vocabulary was far lesser with children who were not read out loud daily.

As a summary, excessive usage of electronic devices affected negatively on the child’s development of normal verbal communication. If a child faces other linguistic challenges, usage of devices could be detrimental.

The study was published in Acta Pediatrics in July 2021. You can read the full report of the findings here.

Unfortunately, we do not have a functioning Finnish School here in Florida (at least to my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong. I used to teach at the Chicago Finnish School, and would love to continue teaching here), but Suomi-koulujen tuki ry offers an online Finnish pre-school, which will be launched this fall. This pre-school is free and open for everyone who is interested and it can help with the development of Finnish among your youngsters.

Suomi-koulujen tuki ry, verkkoeskari.

Let’s keep on reading out loud to the children, and perhaps next time when you are building the biggest ever Lego castle with your kiddos, leave the phone in the other room. Let’s keep the Finnish language alive!