You may want to think twice before using a smartphone or your child’s favourite TV show as a digital babysitter.

New research by the University of Toronto and presented at the 2017 Paediatric Academic Societies Meeting found that the more time a child spent in front of an electronic screen, the greater their risk of expressive speech delays (the ability to accurately express his or her wants and needs).

“Handheld devices are everywhere these days. 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,” said Dr Catherine Birken, the study’s principal investigator, in a news release. “This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay.”

Nearly 900 children ages six months to two years old participated in the study. Parents were asked to report their child’s average screen time and then researchers assessed each little volunteer’s language development using the Infant Toddler Checklist (ITC), a validated questionnaire for detecting expressive speech delay and other communication issues. They found that for each 30 minutes of screen time, 49 per cent of kids had an increased risk of expressive speech delay. As for their screen time behaviours, by their 18-month check-ups, 20 per cent of the children used some sort of handheld device for an average of 28 minutes.

Study authors said that the results support a recent policy recommendation by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) to discourage any type of screen time in children younger than 18 months, but more research is needed to understand the particular type of screen activities that may lead to a speech delay in young children.

According to the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, early childhood exposure to digital devices is associated with cognitive and language delays and may have a negative effect on social, emotional and physical development.

If you start incorporating limited screen time into your toddler’s routine once they pass the 18-month mark, the AAP recommends choosing programming that is educational. Also, it’s worth noting that science gives the OK to Facetiming with grandma.


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