New research found prolonged exposure to handheld screens could cause speech impediments in young children. Handheld devices include smartphones, tablets, and electronic games. Researchers set out to discover the link between speech delays and handheld screen time, as more children nowadays learn to use a technological device before they learn to talk.
The study, which will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2017 Meeting, revealed that the more time a young child spent in hand-held screens, the more that child had a higher risk of expressive speech delay.
Researchers will present the abstract, “Is handheld screen time associated with language delay in infants?” on May 6 at the Moscone West Center in San Francisco. The Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting is an event that brings together thousands of scientists and pediatric researchers to present studies focused on the improvement and well-being of child health in the world.
Children who spent more handheld screen time developed more speech delays
The research included 894 young children aged between 6 months and 2 years old participating in TARget Kids!, a research network in Toronto between 2011 and 2015.
“Handheld devices are everywhere these days,” said Dr. Catherine Birken, study’s principal investigator, and staff pediatrician at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), according to EurekAlert.
The researchers said that by the time the kids were 18 months old, 20 percent of the children had an average handheld device use of 28 minutes a day, according to their parents. Based on a screening tool for language delay, the team found that the more handheld screen time a kid’s parent reported, the more likely such child was to develop delays in expressive speech.
Researchers noted that for each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, there was a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay. The team did not find any other links between handheld screen time and other communications impediments like body language, social interactions or gestures.
“While new pediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common,” said Birken.
Further research is needed to understand the long-term effects of prolonged handheld screen exposure
Birken said that theirs is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delays. She added that the results support a recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to discourage any type of screen interaction in children younger than 18 months.
Birken believes that further research is needed to understand the type and contents of screen activities children are engaging in to further explore mechanisms behind the connection between handheld screen time and speech delay. She said that time spent together with parents on handheld devices needs to be investigated, as well as the impact on in-depth and longer-term communication outcomes in the children’s first years.