Handheld Screen Time Linked with Speech Delays in Young Children

Research is suggesting that the more time children under two years old spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other handheld screens, the more likely they are to begin talking later, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

As the number of smart phones, tablets, electronic games and other handheld screens in U.S. homes continues to grow, some children begin using these devices even before they begin to talk. The research suggests that these children may be at a higher risk for speech delays.

Findings from one recent study, conducted by the University of Toronto and shared by the AAP, included 894 children between ages 6 months and 2 years. By their 18-month check-ups, 20 percent of the children had daily average handheld-device use of 28 minutes, according to the time reported by their parents. For each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay. There was no apparent link between handheld-device screen time and other communications delays, such as social interactions, body language or gestures.

The results support a recent policy recommendation by the AAP to discourage any type of screen media for children younger than 18 months. Researchers note that more study is needed to understand the types and contents of screen activities in which infants are engaged. This will allow the researchers to further explore what’s behind the apparent link between handheld screen time and speech delay and to understand the impact on in-depth and longer-term communication outcomes in early childhood.