Can using smartphones, tablets cause speech delays in toddlers?

If a toddler spends a lot of time playing on a mobile phone or tablet, it may delay when they start talking, researchers have warned

Can using smartphones, tablets cause speech delays in toddlers?

Putting babies in front of iPads and smartphones before the age of two stunts speech development, a new study suggests.

New research, which will be presented on Saturday at the annual Paediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco, suggests that for every 30 minutes a day a child spends looking at a handheld screen, the risk of a delay in expressive speech was increased by 50 per cent.

Researchers studied 894 children aged between six months and two years in Toronto over a three year period. By their 18 month check-up, 20 per cent of the children spent roughly 28 minutes a day using a handheld device, according to their parents.

Using a screening tool, 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, concluding that for each 30 minute increase in screen time, a child was 49 per cent more likely to be at risk of expressive speech delay.

There were no other apparent links between screen time and other communication delays including social interactions and body language.

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

She added, “While new paediatric 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 all screen media should be discouraged in children younger than 18 months.

While speaking about this issue to My Medical Mantra, Dr Prashant Wagh, a Pune-based paediatrician, said, “These days, kids as young as one to two-years-old are spending screen time on devices like smartphones and tablets. Due to this, they do not make an effort to learn how to communicate with their family members. Using these devices can also cause eye problems.  The child can become irritable and anxious. In the future, they may neglect their studies. That is why; parents shouldn’t hand over their mobiles to children.”

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