Toddlers’ Screen Time Linked to Slower Speech Development, Study Finds

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June 21, 2017, News

Hand-held screens might delay a child’s ability to form words, based on new research.

Principal researcher Catherine Birken, a pediatrician and scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, gathered her data from well-child visits, the regular checkups that assess a child’s growth, health and development. From 2011 to 2015, she asked the parents of to estimate how much time their children spent each day with hand-held screens, like smartphones, tablets and electronic games. Meanwhile, Birken and her team assessed each child with the Infant Toddler Checklist — a screening tool that looks for signs of delayed communication development.

In total, Birken’s team recruited and examined nearly 900 toddlers, aged 6 to 24 months, for the study. By the time they reached their 18-month checkups, 20 percent of the children used mobile devices for 28 minutes on average each day. They found children who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit signs of a delay in expressive speech — how children use their sounds and words, and how they put their words together to communicate.

Each additional 30 minutes of hand-held screen time was linked to a 49 percent increased risk in expressive speech delay. Other forms of communication — gestures, emotions, social eye-gazing — were unaffected.

Birken emphasized that the findings, at this stage, don’t prove cause and effect. That would require a clinical trial where children are randomly selected and tracked throughout childhood. But this study highlights what could be a life-altering trend for children exposed to too much hand-held screen time because of the value of expressive speech.
The research abstract titled “Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?” is available here.
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