Handing a smartphone or tablet to your cranky toddler might seem like an easy option to calm them down or give yourself some free time. Unlike the old days, parents today have very little time to spend playing and engaging with their babies. With both parents working and taking care of their child, personal interactions are becoming less and less. And while we might have thought that these gadgets are harmless, a new study shows how screen time can be detrimental to young children.
How Handheld Screen Time Affects Young Children
The research which was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in 2017 shows how technology use can contribute to speech delays in young kids. The study which was conducted between the years 2011 to 2015 involved 894 kids who were between the age group of 6 months to 2 years. The research was carried out in Toronto by a practice-based research network. Parents were asked about kid’s use of handheld devices and how much time they spent using them. By the time the kids had their 18-month checkup, it was found that 20% of the kids were using handheld devices for about 28 minutes every day. With the help of a screening tool for language delay and as reported by the parents, researchers found that kids who had more screen time were most likely to have expressive speech delays. What’s shocking is that there was a 49% increased risk of delay in expressive speech in children for every half an hour increase in screen time using handheld devices. The research shows the direct link to handheld screen time and expressive speech delay. But researchers couldn’t find handheld screen time having any effects on communication delays which include gestures, body language, and social interactions (1).
Dr. Catherine Birken, staff pediatrician and principal investigator of the study said how handheld devices have become commonplace everywhere with young kids using tablets and smartphones a lot more than before. Dr. Birkens also says this is the first study that highlights the link between speech delay in kids and handheld screen time (2).
What You Can Do To Support Your Child
The research states that the child’s environment also plays a key role in language development. Parents need to respond to their children when they are trying to communicate through noise or language. This way, one can support their child’s language development. Being responsive to the child’s emotional and physical needs also helps in shaping both receptive and expressive language. When the child is able to understand what is being spoken to them, it is receptive language. And when they are able to communicate to you using language, it is expressive language (3).
Parents who are warm, responding, and reading a child’s cues can help in developing the vocabulary of their 1-year-olds. And as the child gets older, around 3 years of age, stimulating activities such as parent-child interaction and child-friendly games or TV shows can contribute more in developing their language.
How Much Screen Time Should Kids Be Allowed
Since screen time does provide some stimulation to older kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics has announced its new recommendation of child media usage. The guidelines are as follows (4):
- Kids younger than 18 months shouldn’t be given handheld devices other than for video-calls.
- Children between the age of 18 to 24 months can be introduced to digital media only if they are high-quality programs and the parents can watch it along with the kids to help them understand.
- Children between the age of 2 to 5 should limit their screen time to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Again, parents should watch it with them to help them understand what they are seeing.
- Kids who are 6 years of age and older should have consistent limits on their screen time. Parents should also monitor the type of programs viewed by their children. Parents should also make sure that it does not affect sleep time, physical activities or other behaviors that are essential to their health.
Kids with speech delays can have trouble interacting with others which can lower their self-esteem and confidence. So, make sure that you support your child’s language development by limiting their screen time and instead engage and interact with them.