Technology use, particularly handheld screens such as tablets and smartphones, could be to blame for speech delays in babies and toddlers.
A study of 894 children, aged between six months and two years, found a link between the use of handheld technologies and language delays.
The research, presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, was carried out in Toronto between 2011 and 2015.
Parents were asked about their child’s use of handheld technologies. By their 18 month check-up, one in five children were found to be using handheld technology for an average of 28 minutes each day.
Speech Delays Linked To Technology Use
Researchers used a screening tool to identify language delays. Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found children who frequently used handheld screens were more likely to have delays in expressive speech.
Each extra half hour spent using handheld technologies increased the risk of speech delay by 49%. This was found to be true across all income levels, irrespective of maternal education. The use of handheld technologies wasn’t found to cause delays in social interactions, body language or gestures.
A clinical trial is needed to assess cause and effect, but this study has highlighted the need for further research into handheld technologies.
Items such as tablets and smartphones have become widely available in recent years. Once owned only by the wealthy, these items are now found in most family homes.
Because they are so widely used, it’s important we understand more about their impact on childhood and child development. Technology is developing so quickly these items become household staples before much is understood about the impact of their use.
Scientists believe children aged under two are simply unable to understand what they are seeing on a 2D screen. They might be captivated by the bright colours and flashing lights, but there is no real value for them in what they’re seeing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to avoid screen media (other than video-calling) for children under 18 months of age. From the research study, it is clear this advice is largely being ignored.
Many parents might assume screen time refers only to television viewing. In fact, it includes time spent on smartphones and tablets as well.
Smartphones and tablets are part of everyday life for many children in the western world. We shouldn’t underestimate the effect of parental usage; children nowadays grow up seeing their parents use handheld technology regularly.
Children who experience speech delays find it difficult to express themselves as well as their peers. They might become easily frustrated and use attention-seeking behaviours to replace language.
When children don’t have the right language, or the skill to put words together to explain their emotions, it can make emotions feel more overwhelming and difficult to process.
Although some children who experience language delays will catch up, others are not so lucky. Early language delays have been linked with academic problems in later life.
This study builds on existing research that investigates the potential risks of handheld technologies for child development. One study, which looked at 700 families, found each hour spent using handheld technology was associated with 16 minutes less sleep per night.
The children involved also took longer to fall asleep. The researchers believed it could be due to the ‘blue light’ emitted from screens, which is known to disrupt the body clock and affect sleep patterns.
Many parents fall into the trap of using technology as a babysitter. Of course, at times, technology serves a useful purpose and can keep our children entertained for five minutes so we can do exciting things like have a smear test, make an important call, or simply drive home without a toddler screaming in the backseat.
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally using technology to make your life a little bit easier, but it is worth being aware of how often you reach for the iPad.
Some times we do these things out of habit rather than necessity. So, before you hand over your phone, ask yourself whether there’s anything else you could try first.
It’s easy to ignore the other tools in your parenting toolbox, and to reach for the most convenient. You might be surprised what happens when you think outside the box, and you will increase the positive interaction between you and your child.