Early touch screen use can increase fine motor control in toddlers, suggests a new study. However, The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children should not be exposed to any screens, including touch screens, before the age of two.
Despite the guidelines, many toddlers in reality use touch screens from a very early age. Tim J. Smith from the University of London realized there is a need for more solid data and set up an online survey for UK parents to answer questions about their children's touch screen use.
‘The researchers found no significant associations between using touch screens and either walking or language development. But, there was a positive association between actively scrolling a touch screen and age. ’
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The survey also included specific questions to assess the development of the children, such as the age that they first stacked blocks, which indicates fine motor skills or the age they first used two-word sentences, which indicates language development.
In total, 715 families responded and the study confirmed that using touchscreens is extremely common in UK toddlers.
"The study showed that the majority of toddlers have daily exposure to touch screen devices, increasing from 51.22 percent at 6-11 months to 92.05 percent at 19-36 months," explained Smith. They found no significant associations between using touch screens and either walking or language development.
However, "in toddlers aged 19-36 months, we found that the age that parents reported their child first actively scrolling a touch screen was positively associated with the age that they were first able to stack blocks, a measure of fine motor control," he said.
It is not yet known if this correlation indicates that using touch screens can enhance fine motor skills or if children with fine motor skills are more likely to use touch screens earlier and so further work is required to determine the nature of this relationship more precisely.
The study was published in Frontiers in Psychology.