Screen Time Slows Speech Development

A new study helps answer the question: How much time should children spend with mobile devices?
young child holding cell phone. for article on screen time and speech development

Could watching videos on your cell phone cause developmental delays in your child? A new study says yes! New research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests the more time children under 2-years-old spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other hand-held screens, the more likely they are to begin talking later. This study is the first to show how mobile devices impact speech development in children, raising a question that worries many parents: How much time should my child spend with a mobile device?

According to Dr. Laura Taylor, developmental-behavioral pediatrician with OU-Physicians in Tulsa, if your child is under the age of 24 months, the answer is none. “Infants and young children learn best by direct interaction and play with their parents,” says Dr. Taylor. “Screen time does not provide this experience and takes time away from critical learning.”

Researchers of this new study agree, and in fact found that babies who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit signs of a delay in expressive speech — which is how children use their sounds and words, and how they put their words together to communicate. Each additional 30 minutes of hand-held screen time was linked to a 49 percent increased risk in expressive speech delay. Interestingly, other forms of communication — gestures, emotions, social eye-gazing — were unaffected.

While it’s only one study, these findings do highlight what could be life-altering trends for children exposed to too much hand-held screen time. Expressive speech is incredibly valuable to the development of young children. When kids can’t express themselves, they often act out or use their bodies to communicate by hitting or throwing things.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an expressive speech delay can influence a child’s ability to conceptualize words or define their emotions. Though some children who are behind at 18 months or 24 months can eventually catch up, over time, these language delays can impede literacy skills in grade school and make learning more difficult.

As a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, this is something Dr. Taylor takes seriously and she urges parents to do the same. “My emphasis would be on talking, tuning in to the children,” says Dr. Taylor. “Parents and caretakers turning off their own screens and taking time to spend together.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees and, last year, introduced a set of “Screen Time Guidelines.” It recommends parents practice the following:

  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Dr. Taylor also recommends ditching the screen time for some green time by heading outdoors with your child. “Outdoor and free play are critical components of early childhood learning that children are simply not getting enough of,” explains Dr. Taylor. “I say incorporate as much as possible!”

Categories: Little Ones