Child Play with Handheld Devices Can Delay Speech

Happy child baby toddler sitting smiling and playing with mobile cellphone on a white background

Give the proclivity of smart phones, tablets, electronic games and other handheld screens in U.S., parents should be forewarned that emerging research suggests using the devices may slow speech development.

Scientists say that it is becoming more and more common for children to begin using these devices before they begin to talk.

New research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests these children may be at higher risk for speech delays.

The study abstract, “Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?” is based from a review of 894 children between ages 6 months and 2 years participating in TARGet Kids! between 2011 and 2015. TARGet Kids! is a practice-based research network based in Toronto.

Researchers discovered that by their 18-month check-ups, 20 percent of the children had daily average handheld device use of 28 minutes, according to their parents.

Based on a screening tool for language delay, researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child’s parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech. For each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay.

There was no apparent link between handheld device screen time and other communications delays, such as social interactions, body language or gestures.

“Handheld devices are everywhere these days,” said Dr. Catherine Birken, MD, MSc, FRCPC, the study’s principal investigator and a staff pediatrician and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

“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. This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay.”

Dr. Birken said the results support a recent policy recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to discourage any type of screen media in children younger than 18 months.

More research is needed, she said, to understand the type and contents of screen activities infants are engaging in to further explore mechanisms behind the apparent link between handheld screen time and speech delay.

Moreover, factors such as time spent together with parents on handheld devices need additional analysis to understand the impact on in-depth and longer-term communication outcomes in early childhood.

Lead author Julia Ma, HBSc, an MPH student at the University of Toronto, will present the abstract.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics/EurekAlert

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Posted by Patricia Adams