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Increased Handheld Screen Time Could Delay Speech In Infants

Increased Handheld Screen Time Could Delay Speech In Infants

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  • Rampant screen time on handheld devices have led to a new cause of concern among infants as their use has now been associated with speech delay
  • Every 30 minutes increase in screen time is shown to increase speech delay by 49%
  • 20% of the infants in the study were found to enjoy a screen time of at least 28 minutes everyday

Technological advancements have dramatically increased the number of hand held devices, from smartphones to tablets to electronic games. As the number of these devices increase, children are beginning to spend more time with these devices, sometimes even before they learn how to talk. A research study that was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting (2017) has found that such children are at a higher risk for speech delays. The study titled "Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?" details the harm that it could lead to if small children are given handheld devices to play with.

Handheld Device Use Among Small Children:

Children are exposed to devices, both at school, as well as at home. Schools have begun instructing children to use hand held devices to complete their tasks, especially among younger children who haven't learnt how to write.


Parents tend to keep children "busy" with handheld devices so that they can complete their chores without their young ones seeking their attention. This is a common sight in public places like restaurants and at home.

The negative aspect is that such indiscriminate use of technology can lead to transient changes in the mood as well as long term changes in the brain. This is similar to the effects of consuming a high sugar soda, whose short term effects include sudden bursts of energy that could lead to hyperactivity in a child, and which, in the long run, also increases the risk for chronic diseases like diabetes.

Mozart Effect:

The Mozart effect is a transient elevation in the mood; it is the effect of any experience like listening to music or playing video games that have the ability to manipulate mood. Earlier studies have shown that excessive use of technology can lead to aggressive behavior among children.

In the current study, 894 children aged between 6 months and 2 years, who participated in the TARGet Kids, which is a practice-based research network in Toronto, were studied between 2011 and 2015.

After the initial screening, the children were reviewed after 18 months and the study findings were
  • 20% of the children used handheld device everyday on an average for 28 minutes, according to parents
  • Increase in time with handheld devices increased risk of speech delays, based on language delay screening tools
  • Every 30 minute increase in handheld screen time led to 49% increase in speech delay,
  • Other developmental delays associated with longer handheld screen time were delays in social interactions, gestures and body language communication
The lead author of the study, Dr. Catherine Birken, said that the use of handheld devices have become rampant even though a lot of caution has been advised over their use by pediatricians. With newer and more entertaining features being incorporated everyday, that are both colorful and captivating to the eyes and the ears, toddlers are increasingly drawn towards these gadgets. This is the first study that reports the possible connection between the use of handheld device and delays in expressive speech.

Recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics

The results of the study, according to Dr. Birken, are in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics' recent policy, that recommends discouraging the use of any type of screen media among children who are younger than 18 months.

The scientists associated with the study stated that further research was needed to determine
  • mechanism of association between handheld screen time and delay in speech
  • time spent together with parents when using the devices
  • impact on long term communication
Screen Time For the Current Generation:

There is access to movies and games for children, much more than it was ever there before
  • 90% of children below the age of 2 watch some form of electronic media
  • Children who are below the age of 2 watch at least 1 to 2 hours per day
  • One third of children in the U.S have a television in their bedroom by the time they are 3 years
  • 39% of parents with young children state that the television at home is on for a minimum of 6 hours.
A lot of shows are especially designed for the young audience, but studies have shown that the content in these shows may not be effective. The shows that are marked as educational may be very difficult for the child to understand, with a risk of being exposed to too much light and sound. Many children are also exposed to a lot of shows meant for adults, as the adults in the family watch the shows when the children are in the room.

The current study shows that the visual display experience by toddlers while watching handheld devices could delay their ability to begin speaking, a developmental delay that can be prevented by restricting access to such gadgets.

References :
  1. Infants and Toddlers "Unplugged": New Recommendations about Media Use from the American Academy of Pediatrics - (http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Unplugged--New-recommendations-about-Media-Use-fro.aspx)
  2. Children, wired - for better and for worse - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3170902/)
Source: Medindia

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