Children’s use of handheld electronic devices is becoming increasingly normalized, but new data shows screen time could be associated with language delays in infants.
According to research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting that’s kicking off tomorrow in San Francisco, children under the age of two who begin to use devices like smartphones, tablets and electronic games before beginning to talk may be at a higher risk for expressive language delays.
However, the research found no apparent link between handheld device screen time and other communication delays, such as social interactions, body language or gestures.
The study surveyed 1,077 children between the ages of six months and two years, just over half (54%) of whom were male. According to this demo’s parents, 20% of the kids had daily average handheld device use of 28 minutes by the time of their 18-month check-ups. Communication problems were assessed by the Infant Toddler Checklist (ITC), with expressive language delay indicated by a score below the 10th percentile in the speech domain of the ITC. Researchers found that for every 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, there was a 49% added risk of expressive language delay.
The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Catherine Birken, a staff pediatrician and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Canada, says this research is the first to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delays. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy recommendation that discouraged any screen media use for children under the age of 18 months.
There are, however, throngs of apps for young children designed to encourage literacy and language. A 2015 study from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center and the New America Foundation (Getting a Read on the App Stores: A Market Scan and Analysis of Literacy Apps) found that the 90% of literacy-focused apps targeting preschool-age children focused on proficiencies like alphabet knowledge, phonemic awareness and understand upper vs. lowercase letters.