As a mother, I worry about the amount of screen time my three tiny humans get every day.
Is it too much? Too little?
A new study presented at a recent meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies suggests there may be a link between screen time and developmental speech delays.
My three tiny humans already receive speech therapy. And that’s before we introduced their shared tablet to them.
This new study is making me think twice before handing them a smart device.
Handheld screen time increases speech delay
During the Societies’ meeting in San Francisco, members presented research from Toronto University that demonstrated how screen time with hand-held devices increased the likelihood of speech delays in small children.
“For each 30-minute increase in hand-held screen time, researchers found a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay,” researchers noted in the American Academy of Pediatrics news journal.
The study included 894 Canadian children, between 6 months and 2 years old, who participated in a TARget Kids program from 2011 through 2015.
The program is a collaboration among child-health researchers and pediatricians in Canada. It examines the relationship between early life exposures and health and development problems. Researchers attended well-child check-ups with participating doctors.
American Academy of Pediatrics media recommendations
Last October the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its media recommendations for children.
- Children younger than 18 months should avoid all hand-held media devices, except video chatting.
- Children ages 2 to 5 years should be limited to one hour a day.
- Children age 6 and older should have consistent time limits based on behavioral and well-being health, including sleep amounts.
- There should be designated media-free times, such as dinner time.
- Keep open communication about online safety and respect.
The Canadian study found that 20 percent of 18 month olds already spent an average of 28 minutes a day on a hand-held device. The researchers believe this leads to developmental speech delays.
First of its kind study, with more to come
“This is the first study to report an association between hand-held screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay,” lead researcher Dr. Catherine Birken, of The Hospital for Sick Children, said in a press release.
She said the study results back up the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and discourages children younger than 18 months from using devices.
However, she said more research is needed to “understand the type of contents” that increase the likelihood of speech delays.
Birken said future studies will examine what impact in-depth and longer-term use of hand-held devices has on speech development.
Turn the TV off, don’t waste money on apps
She emphasized that the study does not prove cause and effect but gives researchers a starting place. She said a clinical trial that spans the childhood of a group of children, would be needed for more definite answers.
Bridget Giraldon, a child speech pathologist and operator of the Speech Therapy Talk Services website, said parents shouldn’t buy mobile apps or DVDs for children younger than 2.
She said the new study backs up what she has come to believe through her work: Apps are harmful to speech development. Even seemingly educational apps with learning activities for ABCs and numbers are discouraged for children younger than 2.
She said parents also shouldn’t use the TV as background noise. It limits parent-child interactions, which play a role in speech development.
What can parents do?
Children older than 2 can have some screen time, Giraldon said. There are some guidelines.
Six of her recommended guidelines I found helpful were:
- Limit screen time: Aim for 15 minutes a day or less.
- Earn screen time: Encourage good behavior and self-esteem which can be built through chores or good grades.
- Make it a family event: Everyone sit down and watch something or play a game together. Talk about it afterward.
- Put away smart devices during playtime: Children learn screen-time habits from their parents.
- Consider the quality: Make sure apps and TV shows have quality content that can be learned or discussed together later.
- Read instead: Read with children. They will learn speech habits as they are spoken to.
Giraldon said she is testing and compiling a list of recommended apps and shows.
Looks like I may have some work to do when it comes to screen time. Are you also reassessing your children’s screen time?
Watch: American Academy of Pediatrics new Children’s media recommendations.