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Kids today learn how to navigate digital screens before they can even talk. Excessive use of devices is replacing conversation and face-to-face interaction, while repeated exposure to loud sounds is damaging hearing. Find out how much screen time parents should allow their children and why.

Children learn to communicate through interactions with other people and their first few years are especially crucial to their language development. While technology can be used as a learning aid, it can also hinder your child’s development if not used properly.

According to SKH speech therapist, Ms Joanne Foong, too much screen time takes away time that should be spent on face-to-face interactions. She adds that videos also cannot replace the nuances, such as body language and non-verbal cues, that come with person-to-person communication required for teaching language.

Limit screen time and make it part of an activity

Studies have shown that screen time can decrease the words and sentences that toddlers use. Children younger than two years who were exposed to more screen time said fewer words and were more likely to have delayed expressive language skills. One study found that for every 30-minute increase in daily language delay increases by 49%.

Increased screen time has also been linked to attention and short-term memory problems, as well as reading difficulties. But if you have to use screen time, make it as part of a family activity and not the main focus.

"Technology is best used when it is interactive – parents can talk to their child about what they are watching, talk about the characters, re-enact a scene together, have the child guess what might happen next, or use the device for video calls with loved ones," advises Ms Foong.

Earphones and headphones are okay if used at proper volume levels

"To be able to develop spoken language, children need to be able to clearly hear both speech around them and speech that they articulate," says SKH audiologist Ms Elizabeth Teo. On top of that, long hours of misused listening—and at loud volumes—can potentially damage your child’s ears and affect their hearing.

She says that children can use earphones and headphones if properly monitored. "Explain to your child that their ears have special cells that can be damaged by loud sounds. Hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise is permanent." To ensure proper use, test the device yourself. If it has volume restricting functions, use them.

If listening for longer periods, remind your child that they need to have breaks in between as they need to give their ears time to rest. Consider noise-cancelling headphones as blocking out environmental noises will reduce the need to increase the headphone volume.

How loud is too loud?

Children have smaller ears with narrower ear canals compared to adults, making their ears even more vulnerable to loud sounds. For adults, keeping the volume at 70% (82dB) is considered safe, but children will have to listen below 70%.

As a general rule, your child should still be able to hear you if you are talking to them an arm’s length away, even if they are wearing earphones or listening through a speaker. Besides volume control, use earplugs when in noisy situations, or keep a distance away from sources of loud noise. Another cause of hearing loss is trauma, so tell your child not to dig their ears or put things into their ears.

Early detection and treatment can help

Hearing and language delay can cause your child to fall behind their peers. This might lead to academic and social issues, lack of motivation, or feelings of isolation which also affect their self-esteem and confidence. Early detection can help you and your child manage their condition better. If you think your child has hearing loss and language difficulties, consult an ear, nose, throat (ENT) doctor or a speech therapist for further evaluation.

Less is always better

Recommended 1 hour a day: 
For recreational screen time for children aged 18 months to 7 years

No screen time recommended:
For infants and toddlers under 18 months

From published guidelines based on a 2019 research study by KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and National University of Singapore.

Warning signs to look out for

Language Development

By 12 months:

• Not communicating using sounds, gestures, or words

By 18 months:

• Not understanding simple commands ("Don’t touch")

• Not responding with words or gestures to questions

By 24 months:

• Unable to say about 50 different words

• Unable to combine words ("Mama up"), or produce words on their own

• Not understanding simple instructions or questions ("Where’s daddy?")

Hearing Loss


• Not getting startled by loud sounds

By 3 months:

• Not responding to parent’s voice

By 6 months:

• Unable to turn their head towards sounds

By 12 months:

• Unable to imitate sounds or simple words

12 months and above:

• Speech and language delay, abnormal speech

• Listening to devices at high volumes

• Difficulty in following conversations and learning

• Difficulty hearing in noisy environments

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