Delay the use of touch screen electronics for your baby or risk speech delay.

A new study has found a link between the use of handheld devices by babies and speech delay. The study was presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting. The research studied the correlation between speech delay and time spent by children between ages six months and two years with handheld electronics (smartphones, tablets and electronic games). Of the study group of 1,070 kids, about 70% of the children had no handheld screen time and 20% spent an average of 28 minutes per day using handheld, touch screen electronic devices. The researchers identified a significant association between handheld screen time and expressive speech disorder. They also found that for every 30 minutes of screen use above the average the risk increased 49%.

More research is needed

This was initial research and the only concrete finding was the need for more research. Regardless, we are not surprised by the speech delay results. Many of the children that I work with are obsessed with the smartphones and iPads and if they are in sight it is very difficult to keep them motivated to do any other activity. Smartphone use definitely  seems to work against improving or promoting social language skills.

Note, this study looked at very young children.

Technology is great to motivate pre-schoolers and grade school children to learn (ex. preschoolers learning letters or grade school kids practicing math facts).

The study seems flawed

We are happy that this research is shedding light on the problem, but this research seems somewhat flawed.

  • The study does not seem to take autism into consideration.
    • Autism is typically diagnosed at 2 or 3, but this study is based on babies 18 months old.
  • The study relies on imprecise data reporting by parents.
  • The study does not take into account what the children were doing on the devices.
  • Most importantly, the study does not take into account how much or how little time the parents spent with their children on a daily basis.

Could parents excessive reliance of handheld devices be the problem?

  • In this ultra busy and connected world, perhaps it’s the parent who is so distracted by their handheld devices that they do not spend enough time interacting with their children. Parental connection and conversation is essential to language development.
    • Reduced parental interaction leads to a higher possibility of language and speech delay no matter the reason for the reduced amount of interaction.
    • It is well documented that young children learn best through play and interaction. They need to be able to interact with others and their environment.

Here are some stats that concern us greatly.

  • The use of mobile devices by young children has increased from 10% in 2011 to 40% today.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that American children (all ages) spend 7 hours a day in front of electronic media.
  • Kids as young as 18 months play with iPads and other touch screen devices regularly.

The Kidmunication Point

Ironically, parents use iPads to help foster learning and accelerate speech development. Many apps do a great job of this for preschoolers and school age kids, but children under 2 should not be exposed to these devices. Children under 2, who are over exposed to touch screen electronics can lose the ability to focus and concentrate. Additionally, babies who spend too much time with electronic handheld devices may also lose the ability to sense non-verbal cues like a person’s attitude and facial expressions. These are important social skills. The other problem with phones, tablets and their apps is that the devices do too much of the thinking for them. Liriz Margalit Ph.D. came to that conclusion in her post in Psychology Today called What Screen Time Can Really Do to Kid’s Brains.

We recommend no handheld screens for children birth to age 3

Birth to age 3 is the most critical time for brain development. It’s during this period that the permanent foundation of all future learning is built.  Because this period is so important, we at Kidmunicate recommend the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding screen use.

  • No screens at all (other than video chatting with family) for children under 18 months.
  • For children 18 months to 3 years old, parents can choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children.

Why? Generally technology is a one sided interaction. The screen does not react to the child the way a parent or another child would.  For example, if a child is watching a video of animals and sees a pig, and says “pig”, the technology does not react. Conversely, if the child is looking at a book of animals with his or her mom and says “pig”, mom might say, “wow, you’re right that’s a pig and that pig makes an oink sound.” She is affirming the correct label and adding context to expand the learning and vocabulary. Plus, giving praise makes it more likely the child will try to label other pictures.

Delay the use of handheld devices for entertainment and education for children under 2. Instead get involved with your child’s play and incorporate language learning into play time.

Eileen Krieg MS CCC-SLP contributed to this piece.