New study finds speech delay in babies and toddlers correlates to screen time

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A new study being presented this week at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting found that tablet and smartphone use by babies and toddlers correlates with a speech delay. Researchers at the University of Toronto and The Hospital for Sick Children assessed 894 children from six months to two years. By their 18-month checkup, children who were on tablets or smartphones for 30 minutes or more a day had a 49 percent increased chance of delayed expressive speech.

The researchers used a checklist (a validated speech delay screening tool) to see if the children who had regular time on a tablet or smartphone used sounds or words to get attention or help and, if so, how many words they used and how they put them together. Catherine Birken, MD, the study’s principal investigator says:

“Handheld devices are everywhere these days,... 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.” 

The study supports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation for no screen time for children 18 months and younger. However, the AAP guidelines allow for use of high-quality programming watched with a parent or caregiver for toddlers 18 months to 2 years.  I believe this most recent study points to why screen time for kids under 24 months is not a good idea. There is substantial evidence that shows language is learned much better with human-to-human than with a computer.