Researchers found that by their 18-month check-up, 20 percent of the babies had an average daily handheld device usage of around 28 minutes. More disturbing was the data that recorded a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay, or what the researchers defined as using sounds and words, for every 30-minute increase in handheld screen time. The team noted that there was no statistically significant correlation between handheld device screen time and other communication delays such as body language or social interaction.
Dr. Catherine Birken, the study’s senior investigator told CNN.com that, “[this study is] the first time that we’ve sort of shone a light on this potential issue, but I think the results need to be tempered (because) it’s really a first look.”
She further added: “Handheld devices are everywhere these days. While new pediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common.”
Dr. Birken and her team recommend changing or revising current policy guidelines on screen time for children. Some of these include:
The nonprofit organization, Common Sense Media released data in 2013 which concluded that the number of kids who used mobile devices had doubled from 2011 (38 percent to 72 percent), with the average time being spent tripling from five to 15 minutes a day. Michael Robb, research director for the group wrote in an e-mail to CNN that, “This is an important study in highlighting some of the potential risks associated with media use, and specifically handheld mobile devices. What’s driving the effect is very important. The negative effects may be due to screen time replacing parent-child interaction (playing, reading, talking, singing, etc.) which are critical for healthy development.” (Related: Is too much 'screen time' hurting your kids' mental growth?)
The first few years of a child’s life are crucial to how they will develop as adults. To quote author John Connolly, “For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” This not only refers to their own personality, but how they express themselves as well. Parents, therefore, play a crucial role in helping children build proper communication skills -- one that is not dependent on the bright and shiny (but often having the brain nutritional equivalent of a Twinkie) world of technology. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some positive parenting tips that reflect this. Some suggestions include reading to the toddler daily, and encouraging the child’s curiosity by having them play outside in nature.
That being said, Michelle MacRoy-Higgens and Carlyn Kolker, co-authors of the book, “Time to Talk: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Speech and Language Development” say that using a handheld device as a “distraction” every now and then is okay -- as long as it’s not overdone.
“Every parent is going to need a device at some moment, a screen or a device, a tablet with their child at some point,” said Kolker. “It’s just going to happen and you can do that without some level of guilt, but I think you need to know that those are effectively tools to help yourself perhaps in a down moment but they aren’t tools that are really going to help your child.”