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Handheld Screen Time Linked With Speech Delays in Young Children

Handheld Screen Time Linked With Speech Delays in Young Children

A recent study suggests the more handheld screen time children ages 2 and younger have, the more likely they are to begin talking later.

In today’s society, it's hard to think of a time when our eyes aren’t staring up at a computer screen or down at our smartphones or tablets. Technology is such an essential part of many of our day-to-day lives; we depend on it to communicate, work, and even play—and our kids are following in our footsteps.

But is this harmless?

How young is too young to introduce screen time to children and what are the possible effects?

According to a study presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in May in San Francisco, too much screen time may lead to delays in expressive speech in young children.

The study, "Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?" included 894 children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years between 2011-2015. Researchers used parent-reported information on daily screen time and a screening tool for language delay. Using this data, "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," according to a press release by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Here are some key findings from the study:

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  • On average 20 percent of children had 28 minutes of daily screen time by their 18-month check-up, according to parents
  • For each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay

However, researchers didn't find a connection between screen time and other communication delays such as social interactions, body language, and gestures. More research is needed to understand longer-term communication outcomes and to explore factors such as time spent together with parents on handheld devices.

Catherine Birken, M.D., the study's principal investigator and a staff pediatrician and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children, said the results support the American Academy of Pediatrics recent policy recommendation to discourage screen media in children younger than 18 months.


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